Pan-fried Sea Bass with Sauce Vierge and Fondant Potatoes

This is a great dish because it sounds rather fancy and chef-y but is in fact incredibly straightforward. The key with this one is just timings and moving quickly: both the fish and the sauce only take a few minutes so do your prep for both then toss into pans more or less simultaneously so you don’t need to re-heat for serving (no-one wants overdone fish or soggy tomatoes, after all). The potatoes need significantly longer, so we’ll start with these…

Peel 4 large potatoes and cut into thick circular slices. Heat 50g butter over a low heat in a saucepan. When the butter is foaming, add the potatoes and fry until golden-brown on one side (about 5 minutes). Turn over the potatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes or until golden-brown on both sides.

Pour in 200ml of vegetable or chicken stock (careful of the hot fat spattering!) along with 2 peeled, crushed garlic cloves and a few thyme sprigs. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, then remove the potatoes from the pan using a slotted spoon and keep warm on the hob until serving.

For the sea bass, score the skin of the sea bass and season on both sides (this will help achieve a crispy skin). Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. When hot add the sea bass fillets (one per person), skin side down. Cook the sea bass for 4-6 minutes on the skin side, depending on the thickness of the fish, and then turn over and cook the flesh side briefly. Take the sea bass off the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice.

To make the sauce, heat 100ml olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry 2 finely chopped shallots until softened, stirring. Cut 100g tomatoes into small dice and add to the pan along with a handful of torn fresh basil leaves, the juice of 1/2 lemon, a good slug of balsamic vinegar and seasoning. Warm over a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Spoon sauce over the fish and serve garnished with fresh basil.

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Finally, here are a few tips (courtesy of Nigella) for getting the fish skin properly crispy:

  • Make sure that the skin is thoroughly dry, as excess moisture will turn into steam and soften the skin.
  • Salting the skin with sea salt flakes or a coarse salt 15 minutes before drying will draw any moisture up to the surface of the skin. After 15 minutes scrape away the salt and moisture and pat the fish thoroughly dry with paper towels.
  • Dusting the fish skin with flour can also help to give a crisp finish. Use a light dusting of plain (all-purpose) flour and shake or brush off any excess as you don’t want there to be a batter-like coating on the fish skin.
  • Make sure that the pan and oil are hot enough as if they are cold then the fish skin will sweat and stick rather than sear. Heat a thin layer in a frying pan over a medium heat until it is shimmering, but not smoking. The fish should sizzle as it goes into the pan.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan as this will also cause the fish to steam and cause a soggy skin. When the skin is crisp it will release easily from the pan, so don’t try to move the fillets too soon.
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