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.

Get Cooked…

ISBN 9781594204210Obviously I’m a fan of food science and curious about the history of food and cooking in any culture. Michael Pollen’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation is a good read; a fascinating review of cooking origins, history, and consequences of both cooking and not cooking.

As usual, Pollen’s style makes this book easy reading, but raises interesting questions about the role of cooking in the development of Homo sapiens.

The book follows Pollen as he attempts to master four cooking techniques: fire, air, water, and earth and describes the place of the cook in relation to nature and culture.

He raises questions about what cooking is, what cooking does for us, and the place we have let processed food assume in our modern culture. It’s an interesting synthesis of history, food science, and archeological discoveries. The implications of NOT cooking, allowing the food processing industry to assume the role of the cook, are something we all need to consider.

This is not a recipe book but it certainly increases understanding of food preparation—cooking—using heat (barbecue), air (baking), water (braising), and earth (fermentation).

The links will take you to an independent book shop were you can order it in various editions—but I get nothing—it’s not affiliate marketing of anything like that.

Lemon cake

Seems that a lot of thing lately have been absolutely screaming summertime to me.  I was browsing some of my favorite websites this afternoon and came across a recipe that looked just fabulous.  As you can tell from most of my posts, I’ve not said much about sweets…but this was one that really made me salivate: Meyer Lemon Lavender Cake.

That link will take you to the recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Former Chef.  That’s a great website to look for recipes.

A sweet treat

Holiday time is coming up so I want to introduce you to something special that you can do, even for one:  brioche filled with chocolate ganache.  While it’s baking, you home will smell like a bit of heaven.  I’m going to share with you a recipe that I will abridge and paraphrase from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois to demonstrate the range of recipes available in their books, and how adaptable they are to cooking for one. The full recipe (well worth having) is found on page 189 of the book. It’s a recipe that is easily doubled or halved.

Brioche (unfilled)

Ingredients: Makes four 1-pound loaves.

  • 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons (kosher) salt
  • 8 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • additional butter for greasing the pan
  • 7-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)

Assembling the dough:

  1. Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl (or lidded, but not air-tight) food-grade container. (You will store the dough in the refrigerator in this.)
  2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon. You may need to use wet hands to fully incorporate the last bit of flour.  The dough is loose but will become firm when chilled.  You should not try to work with it until it has chilled for 24 hours.  There may be lumps in the dough, but they will (mine did though I was uneasy about this on the first batch).
  3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or at least flattens on top.  This takes about 2 hours.
  4. Refrigerate in the container; it can be used over the next 5 days; for longer, you should portion and freeze the dough.

Baking the brioche:

  1. Grease a 9 x 4 x 3-inch nonstick loaf pan.
  2. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough.  Dust this piece with more flour and quickly shape (see link to videos demonstrating this in my post “Smell the fresh bread”.)
  3. Elongate into an oval and place in the prepared pan and allow it to rest for 1 hour and 20 minutes, covered lightly with a cloth or plastic wrap if it is dry in your home.
  4. About 5 to 10 minutes before baking time preheat the oven to 350 ° F.  If you are using a stone in the oven then you will need to preheat the oven for about 20 minutes.
  5. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash.
  6. Place the bread near the center of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.  It should be a lovely medium golden brown.  It does not form a hard crust because of the fat in the dough.
  7. Allow to cool before slicing and eating.  (I can tell you this part is really hard!)


Brioche Filled with Chocolate Ganache (page 195)

This calls for good quality chocolate.  I have always used Valrhona chocolate for this.  It’s worth the splurge to have very good chocolate–after all, you are not likely to be eating this every day.

Note:  This dough can become very soft in hot weather or in a very warm room.  To keep the dough cool while rolling it out, fill two or three zipper lock bags with water and lay them flat in the freezer until frozen solid; use these under an upside-down lipped baking sheet to roll out the dough.  This will keep it cool and easier to work with, but you still need to work quickly.


  • A 1-pound portion of the brioche dough above.
  • 1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona or equivalent)finely chopped.
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for greasing the pan)
  • 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Valrhona or equivalent here too).
  • 1 tablespoon of rum or Chambord (optional).
  • 5 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Granulated sugar for sprinkling on top.

Making the ganache:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth; be careful not to burn it.
  2. Remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the butter thoroughly.
  3. Stir in the cocoa powder into the rum or liqueur if using.  Otherwise, stir in the corn syrup and mix until smooth.
  4. Add to the chocolate.

Assembling the brioche:

  1. Lightly butter a nonstick 9 x 4 x 3-inch pan.  Take a 1-pound piece of dough as described above, and shape it into a ball, as above.
  2. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle; dust with flour as needed.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup of ganache evenly over the dough, keeping a 1-inch border all around the edge.
  4. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough, sealing the bare edges.  Tuck loose ends underneath and place in the prepared pan.
  5. Allow it to rest for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Baking the brioche:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 ° F at least 5-10 minutes.
  2. Using a pastry brush, apply the egg white wash to the top of the loaf.  Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.
  3. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown and the sugar on top has caramelized.  (The loaf will likely split in places during baking and some of the ganache will show through, but it just looks so good with the chocolate peeking out!)
  4. Remove it from the pan and let the brioche cool slightly.
  5. Drizzle the rest of the ganache (1/4 cup) over the top crust.  Cool completely and slice.  (This really does need to cool completely before slicing–don’t be tempted to cut it while warm.

There you have it–a serious treat.  It’s very easy to make smaller filled brioches in small “mini” pans, but I’ve found you need to roll out the brioche dough more thinly for the “mini” loaves–otherwise the filling and the brioche are out of balance.  Of course this will take a smaller amount of ganache per loaf.  I have to confess to making more of the smaller loaves, and NOT drizzling the ganache on top, but just letting the sugar and the ganache peeking out from inside  be the finish on the top.

Now you want to know, what else can you do with this dough?  There are recipes in the book for filled breads, pastry, rolls, and other treats that you can make so easily.   You can vary the filling–I’ve done it with good ginger preserves, and orange marmalade too.  Lots of room to please your palate.

The basic brioche is wonderful toasted, makes a great grilled ham and  cheese sandwich (croque monsieur, if you wish, to be in keeping with the brioche).

Think what a great gift a loaf of plain brioche or the filled brioche would make.  Though I don’t make it often (diet!) I like to have friends in for a mid-morning slice of the filled brioche and hot chocolate to give us a wonderful chocolate fix!

Remember that you can halve the recipe easily so it’s very adaptable for almost single-serving cooking, but there really is some big-time taste here.  If you appreciate  breads, this book gives recipes for a huge variety that are all easy to portion  as appropriate for one person.