it, kill it, cook it, eat it: Lyme Bay sea bass
Devon 28 August,
2010 My dismal attempts to catch sea bass are already well
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.