The search for sea bass off the Cornish coast always begins in June, and come July/August for many fisherman, it becomes a full time commitment; trying to find and land this highly priced fish so well known to the UK market. I’m not talking about the big boats out at sea, trawling for fish, I mean small day boats and lone fisherman, with lines off the back of their boats luring in this lucrative summer special. Line caught sea bass is the only way to go for me, with a far superior result over trawled sea bass. Sea bass is a very strong fish, and as is often the case with trawled fish, they easily get damaged and never deliver the same finished product as freshly line caught sea bass.
Sea bass, unbeknown to many, is a very intelligent fish with a great nose for shiny death traps in the form of a hooks. In relatively clear waters, found off the South West coast, sea bass are not only difficult to locate, but also reluctant to take the bait; perhaps another reason why they fetch such a high price. Once caught, descaled and cleaned, this wonderful fish is beautiful cooked simply on a hot barbecue. We’re lucky enough to have wild fennel herb growing on the sand dunes stretching around Rock beach and Daymer Bay; when stuffed inside the sea bass it gives a subtle aniseed flavour. Fennel always works well with sea bass, a little roasted and raw in a salad then dressed with some orange juice compliments the sweetness and depth of flavour of the fish perfectly.
We’ve been developing our new sea bass dish for a few weeks now – Sea Bass, Egg, Hogs Pudding & Tomato Ketchup marries some great Cornish ingredients that are at their best in August. Clarence Court Farm brought to my attention some very small hens’ eggs they had, laid by their rare breed of hens – Burford Brown. Their eggs have a reputation for a deep yellow/orange yolk derived from their natural feed and lots of sunshine which also gives them a fantastic, rich flavour. We simply fry the egg, leaving the yolk runny. We wanted to incorporate the flavour of barbecued sardines into the dish to compliment the sea bass and egg, so using ripe tomatoes, at their peak now, we make a tomato ketchup with barbecued sardines. We wrap the sea bass in some of the local pancetta style ham from Delabole, and fry it gently. We finish the dish with our home made hogs pudding and local mushrooms. I suppose you could say it is sea bass with a full English breakfast, but hopefully not as heavy. I don’t think you’ll be finding it in the local cafe any time soon!
A good alternative to sea bass is farmed bream. It is a fantastic fish and, most of the time, a lot more affordable than sea bass. Farmed bream is a very consistent fish and carries a lot of the qualities of sea bass having rich flakes of white meat. We use it a lot in Outlaw’s, pan fried with the skin crisped up. It works really well with the parsley, lemon and garlic dressing or saffron sauce.
I’m sure sea bass will be swimming the north coast of Cornwall for another month, and I will make the most of it while it is here. Don’t miss your chance to get your hands on some line caught sea bass, and when you do, keep it simple and enjoy this beautiful fish with friends!