Pan fried seabass, lentils and a sort-of-salsa

Seabass lentils

Land of the Rising Sun? Maybe. Land of the Myriad Fish? Definitely. I’ve just got back from three weeks with the greatest fish eaters on the planet. And, with an anthropological appetite for joining the natives, I consumed anything piscine that came my way. Except whale sperm.

Returning to the UK, still in awe of the selection of sparklingly fresh fish on display in Japan, I perused the fish counter in Waitrose with dismay. For an island nation we have an inexplicable lack of fishy passion. The usual suspects stared dully up at me.  Salmon, cod, mackerel, herring, haddock,  sea bass.

One of the big contrasts in UK food culture and that of Italy, Spain, China and Japan, is that we – fickle followers of fashion – focus on a few things as opposed to opening our bellies to the cornucopia of available ingredients. So our fish counters (honourable exceptions like Steve Hatt and The Fishery aside) are full of the same fish. Go to any market in Tokyo or Barcelona and compare. It’s instructive.

Never the less, we do have great fish here. Under-rated and often over exposed fish like sea bass and trout can be wonderful if handled right. And then there are Turbot, Bream, Sole etc. And the mystifyingly underrated mackerel. King of cheap and wonderful food.

And so, in a moment of retro glee, I snapped up a couple of fillets of the Welsh sea bass. Farmed? Certainly, but who cares, at least it’s sustainable and (if well managed) eco friendly. There’s a reason this fish was everywhere in restaurants a decade ago. Firm of flesh and flavour, it is an easy win in the kitchen.

Frying suits this firm, tasty beauty. It adds a caramelised crunch to the fillet and, because it has a decent flavour, doesn’t overwhelm it. The lentils add a nutty base and welcome bulk making this a decent dinner dish.

It’s sweet, citrussy, herby sort-of-salsa that makes this dish sing. Full of fresh high notes it makes your tongue tingle. You could add basil and mint as well as the coriander. Maybe a few hair-fine slivers of Thai red chillie to really spice it up.

This is a quick, easy 40-minute supper to make on a week night that yeilds enough leftovers for a packed lunch the next day. My kind of dish.

Serves 2 with plenty of lentils to spare for lunch the next day

You can substitute pretty much any fish for the bass, just make sure it’s sustainable and fresh. If the fillets are really thick, you may need to cook for a little longer, but not too much. Dry fish is no fun.

This dish will also yield loads of left over lentils so if, like me, you work during the day, these will make a great lunch, Just combine them with any leftover salsa and a little more lime juice and olive oil and voila. A zingy, nutty fresh lunch.

2 fillets of sea bass
Flour for dusting
2tblsp olive oil
Salt & black pepper for seasoning

1 cup(ish) puy lentils
1 medium carrot
1 stick celery
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
1 tsp veggie stock (optional – I use Marigold reduced salt)
Black pepper
1 ltr(ish) water

1 small Lebanese cucumber
8 cherry tomatoes
Small handful parsley
Small handful coriander leaves
Half a lime
A glug of E.V. olive oil

First make the lentils. Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat in a little olive oil in a sauce pan until they soften. Boil the water in a kettle.

Add the lentils and the bay leaf and turn the heat up. Stir for about a minute and then pour in the boiling water and add stock powder (if using). Turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 minutes until the lentils are al dente. Then drain.

Next, the sort-of-salsa. Finely dice the cucumber and tomatoes (you should have roughly the same quantity of each). Chop the parsley and coriander. Combine the veg and herbs, squeeze over the lime juice, glug over the olive oil and mix well.

Finally, as the lentils approach readiness, do the fish. Slice each fillet into three. Season with salt and pepper and dust both sides with flour. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan (I use a non stick cast iron one to stop the fish welding to the pan).

When the oil is hot, gently slide the pieces in skin side down and fry (without moving them) for three minutes. You may need to press them down a little to make sure the skin browns. Turn and fry (without moving) for another two minutes.

Pile some lentils on the plate, place the fish on top and spoon over the sort-of-salsa. Eat straight away.

9 Responses to “Pan fried seabass, lentils and a sort-of-salsa”

  1. Mr Noodles

    I was expecting that you’d cook something Japanese with your sea bass or should that be 鱸 or suzuki! Sea bass is one of my favourites but it did become ubiquitous. Another great fish is hake, which I believe can be found off your native Cornish shores. The Spanish love it.

  2. BeccaRothwell

    That looks (and sounds) incredible. I could happily look at that picture all day, although it would make me very hungry! I wish I knew how you got such great shots of the food you cook at home, photography and food presentation remain somewhat of a mystery to me.

    Great to have you back!

  3. The Grubworm

    @Mr Noodles – i need time to absorb and ponder on Japanese food. It’s the first time in my life i have not known what a large proportion of what I ate actually was. What was really interesting is that they have a similar attitude to the Italians – i.e. season fresh and flavourful food not too mucked about with. But, the lessons they take are very different. Fascinating cuisine.

    Also, it would take me a lot longer than 40 mins to knock up a Japanese dish and we needed quick food!

    Good work on the Kanji character as well, it’s going in my dictionary. Hake is indeed good and is indeed found off Cornwall. But even there, the dearth of good fishmongers is sad.

    @BeccaRothwell – thanks :-) It was pretty tasty. As for the shots, a decent camera and a bright light seem to do the trick. I always take about 3-4 pics and select the best, then crop it a wee bit.

  4. Tom

    You live relatively within reach of Steve Hatt right? Thank god. I never went to Fin & Founder but always wanted to go.

    I remember when, having had enough of the generally crudiness of fishmongers (bar Hatt) I cycled to Billingsgate. As you have now been to the Tokyo fish market never go as you will find it depressing beyond belief.

  5. The Grubworm

    I do happily – and The Fishery is pretty decent as well, and only 5 mins from home. Now, if you want depressing, try and find a good fishmonger in Cornwall, I can count the ones I know on one hand…

  6. tasteofbeirut

    This is the first time I see someone refer to cucumbers as Lebanese; I will gladly accept the title, even though I haven’t dared use it myself, for fear no one would know what I am talking about; in the US, these are called Persian or Armenian. This dish combining fish and lentils with the salsa on top sounds like a perfect meal for me. Would gladly reproduce it next time around,.

  7. The Grubworm

    @tasteofbeirut – it’s how I’ve always heard them referred to, and they sure are tasty! It’s a really light and zingy meal. Let me know how it turns out if you cook it :-)

  8. gary

    Such a crying shame you had to turn to seabass, but that said you produced something quite special with such an overpraised fish. Nice work!

  9. The Grubworm

    @gary – Thanks! It would be so nice if there were a little more choice – especially in supermarkets where it’s usually salmon, salmon or… salmon. With the odd other fish added. At least seabass is a tasty fish, it was uber trendy (and now overused) fora reason I guess.

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