Eating well, featuring sea bass

I don’t generally tell you about our meals.

Generally, we eat well. I’m a competent cook, even a good one, but most of what I make is pretty pedestrian. I’m a big fan of composed dishes like stews and soups and casseroles, and I make them out of whatever it is we’ve harvested lately. I don’t post many recipes because it seems silly to tell someone to go out and get the same mix of ingredients that we just happened to have.

Last night, though, we had something worth repeating.

We’d gone out bluefish fishing on Sunday, and come home with two sea bass in addition to our seven bluefish (more on that later). I’d cooked sea bass once or twice – it’s a dense, white fish with a mild flavor – but I didn’t have a favorite way to make it.

So I called Gus.

I know I’m not supposed to traffic in ethnic stereotypes, but if you want to know how to cook a fish, call a Greek.

We knew Gus was our kind of person the moment we met him – he was cooking a whole lamb on a rotisserie that he had made himself out of a washing machine. We had heard that he liked to go fishing, but he corrected us on that. “I like to go catching,” he said.

Gus had told me that sea bass was one of his all-time favorite fish, so I figured I’d try cooking it his way.

His way was simple. Snip off all the sharp parts (sea bass have spiny fins and tails). Scale them, clean them, and take out the gills. Cut three slits in each side, and salt the fish inside and out. Let them sit in the fridge overnight. Grill about 20 minutes, and serve with a sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano.

I had a beautiful head of slightly bitter greens (I forget exactly what kind) from our hydroponic system, and some winter kale from the hoophouse. I sautéed a couple strips of diced bacon, added onion and garlic, and then the chopped greens.

The sauce was as Gus prescribed. Olive oil and lemon juice in a 2:1 ratio (emulsified in the blender), with salt, pepper, and a handful of chopped fresh oregano.

That’s it. That’s all it was. And it was spectacularly good.

Somehow, the smoky bacon and bitter greens were balanced by the acidity of the lemon juice, and the fish was just flavorful enough to assert itself through it all.

When I make something truly delicious, it’s always an accident. I know, if I try to repeat this, it won’t be quite the same. But it’ll be worth a shot.

9 people are having a conversation about “Eating well, featuring sea bass

  1. I think you have the right idea about asking the Greeks. Looks good and sounds yummy. All my food photos suck. I blame it on poor lighting in our north-facing kitchen and dining room. Feel free to use this excuse if you need it.

  2. I was in speed reading mode and I thought you meant that you named the fish Gus. And I laughed imagining you talking to the fish while you prepared it, calling it ‘Gus’, as in “How many minutes should we put you under the grill for, Gus?” It brought back ‘the melon sketch’ for me.

    I like reading about your meals. I often need inspiration or it’s like Groundhog Day (movie not holiday) in my kitchen: chicken in sauce, venison stew, something on toast, repeat.

    And anway, you had me at bacon.

  3. As a Greek, I approve this message.

    Also, as a Greek, I often wing it in the kitchen and find that things are delicious if you use fresh, complimentary ingredients.

    Another great way to cook fish is to season it with salt and pepper, wrap it in fresh, blanched grape leaves and grill it. Serve it with lemon and olive oil. Delicious. Salmon is great grilled and then served with Tzatziki flavored with dill instead of mint.

    Yum. Kalo orexi (good eating).

  4. Ruthie and Nick — I’m glad the simple recipes work out at least some of the time, because simple is what I do best. I do think they’re some really complicated things that are delicious too, though.

    Kate — Yes, thank you. I’ll use that. My dinner photos are always terrible because it’s dark out and I’m clueless once you take my sunlight away. The fish was better than it looks.

    Jen — Don’t be silly. You can only name halibut, not sea bass. And you can only name it Eric.

    There’s a lot of groundhog day around here, as well. I have boundless admiration for the people who experiment in the kitchen every day, and try new and interesting things. I periodically try to do better, but inevitably lapse back into my old ways.

    Tory — Thanks for the Greek stamp of approval! I think fish swim in the veins of all of you. I love the Tzatziki with dill idea, so I will steal it.

  5. I don’t think it sounds bad to say “ask a greek.” I have a Polish friend and I was describing to him a household task I was trying to hire out, it wasn’t going to be terribly profitable and it wasn’t a large or standard task and nobody wanted to even give me a quote. He said “call the first guy on the list that sounds like a first generation Polish name.” I did, that guy showed up, told me the same problems the other guys did and then made me a reasonable quote without any fuss. He says Poles are used to improvising. So he was good at it. Why wouldn’t a guy from a culture surrounded by fish be the guy to ask about cooking fish?

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