Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pan-roasted sea bass

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 Pan-roasted sea bass We fashion a recipe to match a wine, pan-roasting mild, flaky sea bass with the sweet, floral flavors of browned onion and garlic and a snappy spritz of citrus.
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Pan-roasted sea bass

Should I feel guilty about dining on sea bass? Also known as Patagonian toothfish, this large, white-fleshed fish is firm, flaky and mild, with subtle flavors that make it a treat.

Until recently, though, it has been all but politically incorrect to eat it, and with good reason: Illegal fishing was depleting the world's stocks, raising the serious risk that the species might become extinct in just a few years.

So was the tasty piece of $21-a-pound sea bass that I brought home last night the moral equivalent of chowing down on, say, bald eagle or spotted owl?

Apparently not. With certain strict, specific limits, sea bass is back on the world's dinner plate. Last year, the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, an international environmental agency, gave thumbs up to a Chilean sea bass fishing zone in the South Atlantic near Antarctica, declaring its fishery "sustainable." Meanwhile, according to news reports, stringent regulation has dramatically reduced traffic in non-certified sea bass; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asserts that "very few 'illegal fish' are coming in to the country now."

For more on this topic, here's a good overview from The New York Times, "Some Chilean Sea Bass Is Labeled Sustainable":

Thus reassured, I proceeded to this week's recipe. Specifically engineered to match a citric, floral and bone-dry Alsatian Riesling, this simple dish involves pan-roasting a block of sea bass with the sweet, floral flavors of browned onion and garlic and a snappy spritz of citrus. It's quick and easy and pays dividends in taste, infusing the rather delicate fish with Riesling-friendly flavors. If you're still uneasy about sea bass - or queasy about paying the hefty price that the certified product commands - you could easily substitute grouper or just about any other mild, flaky white fish.


(Serves two)

Onion, enough to make 1/2 cup (120g) chopped
1-2 large cloves garlic
1/2 lemon
1/2 lime
Hot sauce
3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
Black pepper
12 ounces (360g) sea bass or other firm, white fish in a single boneless steak


1. Preheat oven to 450F (225C). Peel the onion and garlic. Chop the onion fine and mince the garlic. Juice the lemon and line and mix in a small bowl; add just a dash of hot sauce.

2. Put the olive oil and the chopped onions and garlic in a saute pan and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are aromatic and just starting to brown.

3. Season the sea bass with salt and pepper to taste and put it in the pan, searing on each side for a minute or two.

4. If the saute pan is not nonstick-coated and has an oven-proof handle, remove it from heat, pour the mixed citrus juices over the fish and put it directly in the preheated oven. Otherwise, transfer the fish and onions and garlic to a lightly oiled baking dish, pour on the citrus and put in the oven.

5. Bake until the onions on top are browned and the fish is just cooked through and starting to flake, no more than 10 minutes for an inch-thick steak. Remove and serve immediately while it's sizzling.

MATCHING WINE: This dish was designed to match the crisp, lime and floral aromas and dry, steely flavor of Pierre Sparr 2005 Alsace Riesling. It worked very well in this "match-likes-with-likes" pairing; just about any dry Riesling should fare well, from Alsace, Austria, not to mention Trocken-level German or even Australian Riesling.

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