Monday, October 09, 2006

Welcome Back, Chilean Sea Bass!

Have you heard the news? Chilean Sea Bass is back! It's had a difficult few years but now appears to be on the road to recovery. So. There is much excitement in my life. Get ready for it… Whole Foods has a podcast! Yes, I am that big of a dork that I listen to the Whole Foods podcast while in lab. I now know all kinds of things about Chilean Sea Bass (or CSB, as it will now be known). I shall now proceed to share these things with you. If you find me too big a dork in my discussion of a fish, please feel free to scroll down and read something else… Eh, on second thought, don’t bother. It will be dorky down there as well.

CSB is also known as Patagonian toothfish. The fish-seller-dealer people decided that “toothfish” could not possibly start anyone salivating and changed the name to Chilean Sea Bass in 1977. This was a rather bizarre choice of name for a fish that is neither a member of the bass species nor fished anywhere near Chile. The Chilean part of the name comes from the fact that Chileans were the first to market the fish in the US. The bass part… Not a clue.

Whole Foods stopped selling CSB in 1999 because the methods used to fish for CSB were non-sustainable, poaching was rampant, and the fish was at risk of becoming endangered. Most restaurant chefs supported the informal ban on the sale of CSB. If between the years of 1999 and 2006 you were served CSB in a restaurant it was likely a) not CSB and/or b) smuggled into the country, although some legal CSB was still being imported.

The development of new and sustainable methods of fishing along with the application of highly rigorous standards and control measures have permitted Whole Foods to begin selling CSB once again. Yaaay! The sea bass in Whole Foods stores has been caught off the coast of South Georgia Island, near Antarctica, using eco-friendly methods. The fish is traceable from the boat on which it was caught to store in which it is sold. The fact that CSB has better supervision than half the children in this world may explain why it costs an arm and a leg. But man, is it worth it.

After assuring the fish guy at my Whole Foods that I did indeed intend to purchase the coveted fish and was not just jerking him around (he was looking at me all suspicious-like. I guess I look suspicious), I sped home to try it out. It only got more exciting from there. A small aside: I am now the proud owner of a giant cast iron skillet. Since I apparently have absolutely no sense of dimension, I bought a 12” pre-seasoned cast iron skillet and was surprised to find out that it hardly fits on my stove. It’s giant and not a little intimidating. So, I did what any self respecting cook would do at this juncture – I opened a bottle of wine and set the burner on high.

Once the skillet was almost smoking hot I poured in a bit of olive oil and threw in a piece of salted butter. I say threw because I was trying not to get close to the skillet – it was sputtering everywhere. This is where I became extremely glad that I took the battery out of my smoke detector. Don’t tell anyone. The butter browned right away, I put the salted and peppered fish in the skillet and let it sear and sear and sear on one side until there was a thick brown crust – my very favorite way of preparing fish. A couple more minutes under the broiler and it was done!

And let me tell you, it was perfect. The thick crust was crunchy and salty, giving way to creamy creamy fish. CSB is very fatty, which explains not only its spectacular texture but also its intensely sweet taste. It really is one of the most flavorful fish I have ever had.

I highly advise everyone to go get CSB from whoever will sell it to you. It’s ok now! The fishing methods are eco-friendly, and earth conscious and all that. You will be doing the planet, the long-suffering (and now, eco-friendly) fishermen, and yourself a favor.


Ben said...

Wow, that looks awesome. I stopped eating it in college after I heard it was close to being endangered. I don't know if I want to try and cook it, seems like you have to know what you are doing :-) Love the pictures, makes me hungry!

JC said...

I knew that CSB was not a bass, but I didn't know that it had nothing to do with Chile. I had some in Costa Rica in 1999, but if I had known it was endangered I probably would have passed.

michelle said...

What a perfect sear! This looks fabulous! Thanks for the update - I didn't know CSB was back! Congrats on your brand new gigantic cast iron skillet, and it seems that you wield such power with grace! Don't tell anyone, but I took my smoke alarm batteries out for a similar reason - anytime I turned my oven on, it went off. All was going well until my dumb roommate almost burned the house down when he fell while asleep cooking spaghetti...but that's another story! (and I still leave the batteries out - he's just not allowed to cook after drinking! Dummy!)

michelle said...

BTW - that's AWESOME.

Rachael said...

I had no idea it had made a come-back! That is great news...and this recipe seems like a perfect way to welcome it back!

Anna said...

Ben - a) I don't know what I am doing; b) from what I understand, you know exactly what you're doing in the kitchen. You should try it! Fear the familiar :)

JC - You were perfectly within your rights to eat CSB. It was never officially endangered, I don't think. Plus, CSB combined with Costa Rica may be too good to pass up. I can just imagine the beach... while I sit in my cold-ish apartment in New England.

Michelle - I don't know how graceful I was with the giant skillet. More like terrified, really. I hope your roommate has been obeying the (very reasonable) rule :) And I am glad you liked the striptease. I think my little blog has seen a lot of disappointed googlers the past month!

Rachael - I am very happy to spread the news bout CSB. It may be my favorite fish of all time. Simpler is better when it comes to such a naturally flavorful fish, I think.

lara griffiths said...

i do so wish i lived closer to your kitchen.
btw- your updates to your site are great. when we get together next time you are going to have to teach me you blog secrets.