Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish)

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I wandered past the seafood display in the newly opened Fresh Market.  There was Chilean sea bass (this name is really a marketing ploy)!  Or really, Patagonian toothfish.  It’s not pretty when as  the whole fish, but it’s luscious in the pan.  It’s also NOT cheap. And there are some that are considered “sustainable”, so I wasn’t being totally irresponsible–just fiscally irresponsible for my budget.  But it had been, literally, years since I’d eaten this luscious fish.  No will power effort here–I brought some home.

When I spend this kind of money for special fish (how about 7 ounce piece for $13.00–yes fiscally irresponsible, and the hock-your-soul category) I’m going to make very sure that I don’t screw up the cooking or seasoning. The texture is firm and meaty with large flake (in that respect somewhat like monkfish, tuna, or swordfish, but still has character of its own) and moderately oily so it doesn’t dry out during cooking. The flavor is often characterized as mild, buttery, somewhat like cod, halibut, or stripped bass;  not fishy in an undesirable way.  It’s the combination of flavor and texture that makes the toothfish so special–and nothing else can really be substituted if you want that particular flavor-texture combination.

If you’re looking at something called just “sea bass” it’s probably not toothfish–that’s usually sold as “Chilean”.  There are, however, a lot of fish sold as “sea bass”–white-fleshed, and lovely as well, but not as special, or expensive, as the toothfish, but still well worth trying.

The toothfish is oily enough to allow for lots of flexibility in method Picture of a cast from a 70kg Patagonian Toothfish of cooking–even broiling or grilling.  To keep it simple and let this special fish really shine, I took the really easy route: seasoned with salt and baked in a covered dish in a 425°F oven for about 25 minutes since it was a thick (almost 2 inches) piece of filet.  While that cooking was going one, I made a pan sauce of brown butter, shallots, and white wine, salt and pepper.

Efforts are being made to legally harvest toothfish, so before you buy check the source, but then break the budget and enjoy! (This image is from the Coalition of Legal Toothfish Operators, Inc.)

The wine? Well, another glass of my Alandra Portuguese white since this was a really simple preparation–and that’s a good all purpose white wine for causal use on a weeknight when I want a rather short glass.

Baked cod fillet with vegetables

The “leftover” cod to which I alluded in a previous post was the result of beginning-of-term course preparation frenzy (always happens no matter how well I think that I’ve planned).  It was an OMG-I’m-starving-what-have-I-got-in-the-fridge, what-can-I-put-into-the-oven-so-I-don’t-have-to-watch-it, panic situation.

cod filet in a baking dish

cod & vegetables ready for oven

I had the cod fillet, but I was really pressed for time.  After madly rummaging in the vegetable crisper, and came up with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, lemons, and onions.  The cabbage got cut into bite-size pieces, the carrots and potatoes sliced into about 3 mm (1/8-inch) pieces.  I tossed the cabbage and very thinly sliced onions with some extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt.  I gave the carrots and the potatoes the same treatment, threw in one of the few herb mixes that I keep on hand–herbes de Provence (my go-to in panic mode), some red pepper flakes put the fillet on top, plopped some lemon slices in, covered it, and stuck it in the partially preheated 325°F oven for about 45 minutes since it was a very thick cod fillet–and set a timer! (Since there were lemon slices, and the cabbage was still damp from rinsing, the cover for this baking dish fit very well, and I knew there would be a bit of liquid from the fish, I didn’t add any water.)

plated cod fillet with cabbage, carrots and potatoes

one-dish meal

When the timer went off I went back to see what I had–the thinly sliced carrots and small red potatoes were tender, the cabbage was tender but still slightly crisp, and the fish flaked nicely–success on the fly!  If you don’t like a little crunch with your cabbage, you might remove the heavier ribs.

Good results for minimal effort, and a really healthy meal.  The lemon and extra-virgin olive oil complemented all the veggies and the fish.  The red chili pepper flakes spiced things up just a little.  Yes, pretty simple, but tasty.  Good food doesn’t have to be complicated if you have good things to start with.