Sea Bass Tartare - an early fall diner
Sometimes, all you need on a Sunday night is a very simple and fresh dinner of fish and white wine. This is a variation, perfect for those still warn fall evenings, when we get to open the windows, and enjoy the quiet of Rue Hoche.
The more I cook with fantastic products, like I get at the Marché des Lices, the more I want to simply showcase their flavor. Nothing is simpler to do than a fish tartare. Herbs and spices are great when working with high fat oilier fishes like bonito, sardines, mackerel, tuna (but I usually avoid red tuna, because of over fishing.) But for delicate fish and seafood, you’ll want to be a real minimalist. You’ll be surprised how little seasoning can overpower the prized ultra-fresh fish that you bought right off the boat!
Bar or European Sea Bass is a ubiquitous in Brittany. You might know it as branzino. Baked, grilled or stuffed it is a highly prized fish. It is also a great fish for raw preparations. The trick is to let the fish do the talking. Use higher flavor sides to accompany the tartare rather over spicing the fish.
This recipe is ultra-simple, the fish skin chips take a little time and skill but once you get the knack it’s real easy. Two things you must make sure of first: the fish must be ultra-fresh; eyes clear, gills bright red, no fishy smell only a good ocean aroma and it must be well cleaned and scaled.
Sea Bass Tartare
serves 2 for dinner, 4 as an appetizer
1 – 1 ½ lbs European Sea bass or 2 - ½ lbs filets (skin on)
3 tablespoons neutral tasting oil (sunflower, grape seed, olive oil in a pinch)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Small dollop of wasabi paste (optional)
½ a shallot finely chopped
½ a cup flat parsley finely chopped
Black pepper to taste – I like two pinches
Sea salt – Guerande, or the other kinds you find in spice racks these days
Remove skins from the filet and set aside on a flat surface. To remove the skin place a sharp knife between the meat and skin at the tail end of the filet. Run the knife firmly the length of the filet holding the skin firmly. Don’t worry if you get a bit of the meat on the skin just scrape it off and put it into the tartare.
Chop the filets into small cubes, about or 1cm (1/3 of an inch).
In a bowl large enough to hold your chopped fish, make the vinaigrette. Mix oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard. Add chopped shallot and parsley. If you want just a bit more heat add a small dollop of wasabi.
Add fish, salt and pepper and mix well. I use my hands, the best way to get an even mix. Drain off any extra vinaigrette or liquid. Taste, add salt or pepper if needed. The taste should be simple, the fish should be your number one flavor, enhanced by the vinaigrette. Let the mix sit in the frig, while you make your skin chips and salad.
*East Coast Black Sea bass is a good alternative in the US – you can make this recipe with other firm white sea fishes
Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
1 fennel bulb
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
Peel and section your grapefruit. Get a much of the white pith off your fruit. Run the blade of the knife in between the membrane and the fruit of each section. Separate fruit from membranes. Easier than you think and you don’t have any bitter or tough parts.
Cut up your fennel bulb into thin slices with a mandoline or a very sharp knife.
Mix grapefruit, fennel, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside while making your fish skin chips.
Spicy Sea Bass Skin Chips
1/4 cup of neutral oil
Ground cayenne pepper
Cut the skins into 2cm wide strips (1 inch). Brush skins with oil, sprinkle with cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt on one side.
Heat 1 cm of neutral oil in a not stick pan. When the oil is hot, place skins in the pan in batches. Give them room so that they don’t touch. When they are golden brown take then out and place them on a cloth or paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Note that they don’t get really crispy in the pan. They actually harden out of the pan after they are removed. If you try to crisp them in the pan you’ll burn them.
Wine pairing - Champagne Jacques Lassaigne
This dish is perfect for a sparkler. The dryer the better so we chose a champagne with almost no added sugar. Many vintners are making low or no added sugar champagnes. I love them, because you get to taste champagne in its purest form. The vintner Jacques Lassaigne makes a range of intersecting champagnes. Each with a distinctive character, but all from the chalky soils near Troyes. This one called “Les Vignes de Montgueux” is perfect for this dish. After a yeasty nose of fresh straw and brioche, the wine is bone dry, the attack is citrusy and backed up by a strong mineral structure. It will complement the tartare enhancing its flavor. The citrusy tang marries well with the grapefruit and fennel salad. Try other low sugar champagnes, called extra brut, brut nature or the driest, zero-dosage, from Tarlant, Gimmonet, Drappier or Larmandier-Bernier...