Kick His Ass, Sea Bass!

Chilean sea bass
As I’d mentioned before, this past weekend was a house full of visitors. And not just any ol’ visitors, but the in-laws. Now, some of you may shriek at the thought of your in-laws visiting, or perhaps at the thought of even spending time with them. What about cooking for them, and two of their best friends who have come along for the road trip? Would that make you want to crawl into a deep dark cave and rock back and forth with your knees to your chest screaming, “mommy! mommy!”?!

huge sea bass fillet

I suppose I’m a little different than you, then. I find myself extrememly fortunate in having awesome in-laws. They are a wonderul pair these two, and for a ‘retired’ couple they are highly active. My father-in-law, Barry, has been planning a huge 5-week road trip for the past few years, and clearly stated he’d go alone if need be. But he didn’t have to – his wife, Susan, and one of their favorite couples, Jack & Joan, volunteered to accompany him from North Carolina to Montana, the Rockies, and eventually over to Canada and many spots in between. Now that’s a trip to look forward to! Luckily for us, Chicago was one of those “in-betweens” and so for a weekend, we got to play host to all four of them.

broth components

Not only are the in-laws pretty cool, but their friends don’t suck either. They’re all pretty knowlegable about food and were quite excited about having a ‘chef-in-training’ whip up a dinner. Me? I was pee-in-my-pants excited! I get giddy enough about making dinner for the two of us, let alone for a group of visitors! And visitors who know and appreciate food? Holy heck yes!

ready to plate

But let’s push that excitement to the side for a second: I don’t really cook for ‘foodies’, and I don’t cook for (in most cases) groups larger than 2 and max, 4. So I had to strategize for a minute. I knew we’d be eating out, and eating heavily for most of the weekend. [ps, if you haven’t been to Hot Chocolate and live in Chicago, get your ass over there now! And you better eat dessert.] I also knew a plank-grilled salmon and rice was too easy for this crowd. So I dove onto epicurious in search of a somewhat fancy fish dinner, and decided on a recipe I couldn’t stop clicking back to. I was not misled.

and... plating

If you’re in ‘the market’ for a fun, inexpensive fish market, head on over to Isaacson & Stein. My friend, Caroline, posted about that market and I’d been wanting to go ever since. You walk into a large factory-like building, grab a pair of gloves and a baggie, and peruse the fish to find your match. Then you bag it yourself, get it weighed, pay an ungodly cheap price for the size and grade of fish you’re getting and head home with a smile. A big smile.

I set out to buy cod, but couldn’t take my eyes off the Chilean sea bass. I figured it would work just fine, and so I bagged those puppies up and took ’em home for the feast. I also procured some larger than life shrimp for an appetizer dish.
chilean sea bass and baby bok choy

Everything turned out great, and I was pretty darn pleased with the end result and the flavors in this concoction. The fish was perfectly cooked and went really well with the curry broth, which had flavors of lemongrass, coconut, and lime. It was surprisingly light, refreshing, and not soupy in the slightest. The bok choy was crisp, slightly wilted, and a perfect accompaniment to the main attraction. I did feel the need to add some starch to the dish though and tossed some glass noodles into the bottom of the bowl to help sop up the lovely lemongrassy broth that I literally could have drank from the bowl, like the milk after eating a bowl of Cookie Crisp. On a negative side, this dish is definitely one for the skilled multi-tasker; I think at one point I had 3 burners going and the oven at 400 degrees, and timing was crucial. But if you can get it right, you might find it to be, in Jack’s exact words, “the best sea bass I’ve ever had“.

well-fed group

Chilean Sea Bass w/ Coconut, Lime, & Lemongrass Curry Sauce
Adapted from Eric Ripert’s Epicurious recipe; serves 4

So… are you planning a dinner party soon? In the doghouse and need to reclaim the pants in your relationship? Feelin’ an itch to juggle a few pots and pans at one time? Or just want a super tasty weekend meal that you’ll feel ridiculously proud of? Here’s your answer. Hopefully this dish won’t kick your ass.
1 T butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 lemongrass stalk*, thinly sliced
1-inch knob ginger, roughly peeled & thinly sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves*
1 T Madras curry
3 cups chicken stock
1 can canned coconut milk (do NOT use light here)
4 cilantro sprigs
sea salt, or kosher salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 T fresh lime juice (or more if not using kaffir leaves – use 1 T for each leaf)
sea bass
2 T canola oil
4 7-oz Chilean sea bass fillets, 1 1/2 inches thick, skin on
salt and pepper
veggie side
1/2 stick butter (can omit or add less)
fine sea salt
4 heads of baby boy choy, divided in half
kosher salt
7-8 oz vermicelli style noodles (also called glass or cellophane)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Start a large pot of salted water and butter to boiling (put cover on to speed this up).
To make the broth, melt butter in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves, and curry and sweat until tender and with no color, about 5-6 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and cilantro and simmer 5 minutes. Season w/ salt and pepper. Strain through fine chinois (strainer) and set aside, keeping warm. Stir in 1 T lime juice.
Put 2 T of oil in one large (ovensafe) skillet, or if using large fillets, divide it into 2 skillets. Place over high heat until oil is just smoking. Season sea bass on both sides with s&p. Put in skillet (skin side down) and saute until golden brown and crusted on the bottom, about 2 1/2 minutes. Turn and sear on the other side for 30 seconds. Put pans in the oven and roast until a metal skewer can be easily inserted in the fish and, when left in the fish for 5 seconds, feels hot when touched to your lip, about 6-7 minutes. (this is an Epicurious tip..).
To the pot of boiling water and butteryness, add bok choy and cook until crisp and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a sheet pan in the fridge to “shock” and stop cooking, retaining the bright green color. SAVE THE WATER and bring it back up to boil.
While the fish are roasting and the boy choy is in the fridge, add the glass noodles to the boiling water and remove the pot from the heat. Let sit for a few minutes until noodles are soft. Drain.
To plate, add a small mound of noodles to the bottom of a large bowl. Place fish on top and 2 halves of bok choy around. Pour 1/4 of broth over the fish. Squeeze a little lime juice on top (~1 T for all 4 bowls). Voila!!
*Both kaffir lime leaves & lemongrass can be found at specialty Asian food stores. Lemongrass is sold in many grocery stores, and Kaffir lime leaves can be found at Whole Foods in some locations (like the Lincoln Park Chicago location) and can be purchased here.
p.s. Title quote courtesy of Dumb & Dumber. Great movie, great quote 🙂

5 thoughts on “Kick His Ass, Sea Bass!

  1. Anonymous says:

    wait a minute, Jack told me, mine was the best sea bass he had ever had! however, you may know by now he is so full of it, his eyes are brown.I did mine a couple of years ago for them with a grilled risotto cake and lobster roe, curry cocoanut cream sauce reduction with bok choy. I used the risotto to build a tower. I like height in my presentations. heard all raves about your sea bass, which I find rather hard to cook correctly. the interval between jelly (raw) and overcooked is a very small window. But I will try this recipe next week. I have the undaunting task of cooking for this peanut gallery a couple of times a year. Jack usually falls asleep and Barry is on his diet and none of them like anything too cutting edge. everything has to be well-well done or burnt. I try to shock them but sometimes I dont think they are paying any attenetion. again Jack is asleep and Barry is worried about how much fat is in everything.

  2. Heather says:

    wow – yours sounds more awesome than this one! but very similar, actually :)i think jack fell asleep on us a couple of times, fortunately not for the picture, and not during dinner!

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