Chilean sea bass (sous vide)

Supper this evening was Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish. or Dissostichus eleginoides if you prefer). I’ve been skulking through cookbooks again–especially those that have sous vide recipes. (No, I haven’t bought anything special for sous vide cooking–yet, though I will confess to looking at immersion circulators and thinking a birthday present to self.)

In The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt I foud a lot of recipes for sous vide cooking–and a method of doing it without any special equipment (at least for foods requiring only a short cooking time). It’s done with a beer cooler.  I do have a beer cooler so this seems like a method to try, as an alternative to the multifunction pot that I used before because I was too lazy to try the beer cooler method.

First I decided to check out the beer cooler to see how well it held temperature. I put about 2-1/2 gallons of hot tap water into it (118ºF) and checked the temperature over several hours.  Two hours later, the water temperature was 113ºF, and at four hours, 110ºF. I decided that would certainly do for “short” cooking times. Seems most fish recipes call for cooking times under one hour.

The recommended temperature that I found for Chilean sea bass ranged from 122ºF to 140ºF so I decided to go with 130ºF. Since my sea bass was frozen (individually packaged filets from Costco), I thawed it in cold water, seasoned it lightly with salt and black pepper, a tiny splash of fennel fused olive oil (olives and fennel are crushed together), popped it into a zipper-lock freezer bag, and after squeezing out the air, plopped it into my beer cooler for 45 minutes. (Water temperature was 131ºF when I put the fish into the water and 129ºF one hour later.)

Results? Well, satisfactory. Obviously, the temperature in the cooler held well for the necessary time. The sea bass wasn’t quite as done as I’d prefer–though perfectly evenly cooked (even though this piece had one end that was definitely thinner than the rest). I think for my next–there’s more in the freezer–I’ll go with the 134ºF temperature or maybe just a tad higher.

I’ve also read lots of warnings about over-seasoning for sous vide cooking (and I came close to over-seasoning with the monkfish) this was bordering on under-seasoned. Next time, a bigger pinch of salt, and a bit more fennel oil, and a little lemon zest.




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.