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 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.
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.