Sea bass is a delicious eating fish and unquestionably one of my favorites. While like most fish it is best cooked and served simply to be enjoyed at its best, the flavors are robust enough that it can be incorporated in many dishes which enhance and complement it in different ways. This simple en croute recipe - perhaps more commonly associated with salmon - is one such dish in which sea bass works extremely well.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
- 4 medium chestnut mushrooms
- ½ small white onion (¼ each for duxelles and zucchini stuffing)
- 1 large clove of garlic
- ½ teaspoon dried tarragon
- Salt and black pepper
- Rapeseed (or olive) oil
- 2 sea bass fillets
- ½ pound puff pastry
- Flour for rolling pastry
- Beaten egg for glazing
- 1 medium zucchini (courgette)
- 12 cherry tomatoes (6 each for stuffing and garnishing)
- ¼ green bell pepper
- 6 canned anchovy fillets
- Salad cress (or herb of choice) to garnish
Wash and moderately finely chop the mushrooms, heads and stalks. Finely chop one onion quarter. Put a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil in to a pot and put the pot on to a medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onion, along with the tarragon and the peeled and grated garlic clove. Season further with salt and pepper. Saute fairly gently for around ten minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool completely.
If you wish, you could ask that the sea bass fillets be skinned for you at the point of purchase but it is a job which is a lot easier than it looks or sounds. You will, however, need a proper fish filleting knife. Do not attempt to skin fish with a rigid, standard chef's knife.
Lay the first fillet skin side down on a chopping board with the tail (pointed end) nearest your weaker hand. Grip the edge of the tail tightly and make a small nick close to but facing away from your fingers, through to the skin. Twist the knife so that it's almost flat and move it backwards and forwards as you pull the tail away from it. The fillet should separate cleanly from the skin. Repeat with the second fillet.
Cut about an eighth of the puff pastry away and set aside for forming the decorative part of the en croute assembly. Roll out the rest of the pastry on a floured surface to a roughly triangular shape which will comfortably contain the two sea bass fillets on one half.
Start by spreading out half the mushroom duxelles on one half of the pastry in roughly the size and shape of the largest sea bass fillet.
Lay the first sea bass fillet on top of the mushroom combination.
Spread the remaining duxelles over the top of the sea bass fillet.
Lay the second sea bass fillet on top of the assembly.
Fold the empty half of the pastry over the sea bass and mushrooms and trim away any excess, leaving a border of around an inch. Crimp this border to seal the package.
Roll out the last little piece of pastry to a thickness of around an eighth of an inch and cut from it a small fish shape with your knife.
Put your oven on to preheat to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and allow the pastry to sit and rest will it does so.
When your oven is heated, lightly oil a baking tray and lift the main pastry parcel on to it. Glaze well with beaten egg. Lay the fish decoration on top, press down very lightly and glaze the fish with more beaten egg. Put the tray in to the oven for half an hour or until the pastry is a deep golden color.
Cut the zucchini in half along its length and scoop out the pulp with a teaspoon. You want to leave a shell around half an inch thick. Note that the remaining stalk is left in place for presentation purposes but should not be eaten.
Season the flesh sides with salt and invert for ten minutes on a wire rack over a tray to get rid of the excess water. This is especially important if you happen to be using heritage zucchini to get rid of the bitterness.
Canned anchovies can sometimes be available in a wide variety of price ranges. For a recipe such as this one, the least expensive variety works just as well as the more expensive options.
Cut six of the cherry tomatoes in half and carefully scoop out the pulp and seeds. Add them to a bowl along with the seeded and chopped bell pepper, the finely chopped remaining onion quarter and the chopped anchovies. Season with pepper only (the anchovies provide the salt) and drizzle with rapeseed oil. Stir to combine.
Divide the stuffing mix between the two scooped out zucchini halves.
When the sea bass en croute comes out of the oven, lift it with a spatula to a plate to rest, Lift the stuffed zucchini halves on to the baking sheet and place them in to the oven for ten minutes.
Cut the sea bass parcel in half at an angle and lay half on each of two serving plates along with a zucchini boat and three in each instance of the halved remaining cherry tomatoes. Garnish with a little salad cress to serve.