Catch it, kill it, cook it, eat it: Lyme Bay sea bass

sea bass

Lyme Bay, Devon 28 August, 2010 My dismal attempts to catch sea bass are already well chronicled.

However, this summer we have had some exciting success. We fished over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Lyme Bay off Exmouth, and were lucky to catch a real beaut.

We were trawling at about 2 knots, Kim driving, me fishing. Suddenly a fish struck the lure at speed. My rod immediately bent over itself. I gave it a strike, pulling back sharply, then began slowly to reel in. The line went completely slack and I thought I had lost it. Then it was back again, pulling, then slack. Finally we could see an enormous fish on the surface, mouth open, as I pulled it in towards us. It was a sea bass! A fish this size is not easy to land but we managed to get it into the net. Once on the boat, I gave it a few hard, sharp whacks on the head with the aptly named ‘priest’. Then we struggled to extract the hook from deep inside its throat - for the fish had swallowed the trusted Husky entirely, literally hook, line and sinker.

the husky

The husky

We returned to the Exe and sped up river with our catch – no point in fishing any more, this was more than enough for our tea! Once back home, we realised the fish, though stunned, was not yet completely dead. I’m sorry to say that it took a few vigorous blows with a heavy rubber mallet to completely dispatch the beautiful creature. Believe me, this is not a pleasant task and it made me feel very uneasy to do so. However, this is the harsh reality of the food chain. Having to kill the food that you eat is not easy and it does indeed make you appreciate and respect the living world around us.

It was essential, then, to ensure that we enjoyed the fish to its fullest. How to cook it? It seemed most apt to keep it whole. We considered firing up the wood oven to bake the sea bass in salt. This is a marvelous way of cooking whole fish which we have enjoyed in Italy, Spain, Portugal and sometimes at home. The salt forms a hard crust casing and the fish steams from within, emerging flaky and moist yet not at all salty.

sea bass chinese style

Preparing the fish for steaming

Another all-time favourite method to cook a whole fish is to steam it Chinese style with ginger, spring onions, a little chilli, soy sauce and sesame oil. After much debate, we opted for the latter.

We placed the fish on the largest platter we had, and placed this on a rack in the largest roasting tray we had, covered it in foil, added some boiling water, and gently cooked it over the Weber for about 50 minutes.

sea bass chinese style

The whole steamed sea bass, ready to eat

The dense meaty fish emerged succulent and moist, deeply flavoured, the soy, ginger and garlic adding flavour and creating the most delicious sauce to spoon over the fish. We served this simply with steamed white rice, udon noodles dressed in sesame oil, steamed broccoli, nothing else.

sea bass frame

Yes, we ate the whole thing.

Steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onions

1 whole fish, cleaned and scaled (a 1kg fish will serve 4 generously)
1 bunch spring onions, shredded
1 inch knob of root ginger, peeled and cut into fine strips
1 clove of garlic, cut into slivers
1 chilli, cut into strips
Light soy sauce
A little sugar
A little vinegar
A dash of toasted sesame oil
A handful of coarsely chopped coriander to garnish

Note: adjust quantities depending on size of fish!

Make some deep slits in the fish on both sides. Push some of the ginger, spring onions, garlic and chilli into the slits. Lay the fish on a platter with some of the vegetables underneath and scattered over the top. Mix about half a cup of light soy sauce, a little sugar and vinegar, and spoon this over the fish. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes.

Depending on the size of the fish, it can be steamed in a covered wok. Or else place a rack in a large roasting tray and put the platter on this. Cover with 2 layers of foil, and add boiling water, then steam gently for 20-50 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. It is ready when it comes easily off the bone.

Garnish with coarsely chopped coriander and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Bring to the table whole and flake the fish off the bone, serving it with the cooking juices that have formed a delicious sauce spooned over the fish.

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