Last Updated on July 27, 2021
Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillets on a Tomato Concasse with Fennel and Olive
Learning how to pan-fry fish is a key skill and, while it’s easy enough I have a few tips that will make your own efforts perfect. Sea Bass fillets are an easy fish to start with, particularly if you pick tail end pieces that are generally quite thin. If you have middle section fillets, you can follow the same process, but you’ll need to cook the fish for a bit longer.
Start by scoring lightly through the skin of the sea bass on the diagonal. Make three or four cuts just to help stop the fillet from curling up. You wouldn’t need to do this with some fish fillets like plaice where the skin is thinner, or even with very small sea bass, so use your own judgement and score if the skin is thick. Then, sprinkle both sides with salt, cover and put the fillets to one side for 10 minutes. Rinse the fish and pat dry with kitchen paper. The idea of the salt is just to help draw out any excess water and firm up the sea bass.
Heat equal quantities of olive oil and butter in a pan so that the butter has melted and the fat is sizzling. The oil will help the butter not to burn and the butter will add flavour to your dish. You can use any light vegetable oil if you prefer and you don’t need the butter at all, though I personally think it’s an indulgence worth making. Put the fish into the pan, service side down – for me, that’s the white side of the fillet without any skin. Some chefs disagree with this and cook service side up first, but I find I get a tidier result by just cooking the fish for a minute on this side, before flipping it carefully. There’s also a trend in restaurants to serve fish skin side up, with a crisp finish on the skin too. It is all about your personal taste. Here’s a rather beautiful presentation of pan-fried sea bass, skin side up. We asked the restaurant in question, Noble Rot Soho, how they’d prepared the fish and were told that it had been flash-fried for a minute on each side then finished in a hot oven.
What is vital is not to keep turning your fish. As you will discover, the fillets start to be quite tricky to turn once they are partly cooked. So, turn once only to make sure you don’t end up with a mess.
When you flip the fish over, use a spatula to hold it down for 10 seconds, pressing the skin lightly into the pan. That stops the fish from curling up and helps the skin to crisp. For a tail end of sea bass, you may only need 2-3 minutes more cooking time – you’ll know the fish is cooked when it’s opaque all the way through. If you are using a thicker fillet, you will need to cook your fish for longer at this stage. Or, if you happen to have an ovenproof skillet, you can just pop the whole pan into the oven at 170c and cook for 5 minutes or so.
Serve the pan-fried sea bass with fresh lemon wedges, a few cherry tomatoes that you can cook alongside the fish, chopped fresh parsley and juices from the pan. Simple!
If you want to fancy things up a bit, at this time of year I like to make an easy concasse of tomato with fennel and olives. It’s a light stew with aniseedy notes from the fennel and with fresh acidity from the tomatoes. It would be perfect if the tomatoes were from my garden, but this year nothing has ripened early so I used vine tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market. The beans, however, were my own. I just trimmed them and steamed them for five minutes before dressing them with olive oil, lemon juice and chilli flakes.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s the recipe for pan-fried seabass with a tomato and fennel concasse.
Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Tomato, Fennel and Olives
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 10 g butter
- 3 banana shallots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 50 ml vermouth or dry white wine
- 2 fillets of sea bass
- 2 medium vine tomatoes
- 1 small head of fennel
- 1/2 lemon
- 10 black olives
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 3 or 4 sprigs thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cut three or four slits into the skin of the seabass fillets then salt them and put to one side
- Peel and finely slice the shallots and garlic
- Trim and slice the fennel as finely as possible, removing the core
- Cut the cherry tomatoes and olives in half
- Put the vine tomatoes into a bowl of just-boiled water so that they are completely covered. Leave them for 3 minutes until the skins are easy to peel off
- Put a teaspoon of oil into a small saucepan and heat over a very low flame
- Add the sliced shallot and garlic. Cook very gently for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Peel and chop the tomatoes and put to one side
- Add the fennel to the pan with the thyme
- Continue to cook for a further 5 minutes
- Add the tomatoes, olives and the white wine or vermouth
- Cook stirring gently occasionally
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil and butter in a frying pan
- Rinse the salt from the seabass fillets and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season with a little salt and pepper
- Add the cherry tomatoes to the frying pan
- Put the fish, service side down, into the frying pan and cook for just a minute before turning
- Turn the fish, press down firmly for 30 seconds to a minute and cook until the white part of the fillet is completely opaque
- Taste and season the concasse
- Serve a spoonful of tomato concasse with fennel onto the plate and lay the sea bass fillet on top
- Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, a lemon chunk and the fried cherry tomatoes
As you can see it’s a very easy recipe. Like most white fish, sea bass is low in calories and so this plateful will set you back around 33o calories in total, despite looking luxurious and being very filling.
Thinking of making this yourself? Here’s a helpful pin to save for later