Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pan Seared, Oven Roasted Freshwater Bass with Meyer Lemon Zest and Capers

As we were taking our leave from our hunter-gatherer son, Josh and his bride Kelly's first Thanksgiving, Josh gave us these bass fillets that he'd recently caught while on a fishing trip. He's on another trip right now, so I can't ask him if they were smallmouth or largemouth bass. My guess is smallmouth. This is wild, freshwater river and lake fish, not the sea-going bass that is so overfished in the ocean. I was mistaken about the species of fish: Josh tells me that "the bass ... are striped bass, an anadromous sea-run bass native to the east coast, transplanted out here (California) long ago. They come from the ocean up into the river systems in the fall and go back out to sea in the spring. They are not commercially fished here and sport fishing takes place when they are in fresh water ... ." (This is directly from the fisherman's mouth.) If you don't have access to this fish, halibut fillets may be successfully substituted.

Large, thick, tender white meat fillets with no bones, they were dipped in buttermilk then in seasoned breadcrumbs, seared on the stove top and finished in the oven. The only way they could have possibly been better, in my humble opinion, was if they'd been eaten just-caught from the river while sitting around a cozy campfire.

Pan-Seared, Roasted Freshwater Bass with Meyer Lemon Zest and Capers
Christine's original recipe
2 freshwater bass fillets, about 1-inch thick in center

1 cup buttermilk
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
zest and juice from 1 Meyer lemon, keep separate
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
1 cipollini onion, peeled, cut crosswise then sliced into thin half-moons
olive oil for the pan
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash the fillets under cold water then pat dry with paper towels.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Trim the filets of any thin side flaps, as these will cook too quickly. Save them for another use.
Set up your mise thusly:
Zest the Meyer lemon into a small bowl.
Strain the juice into another small bowl.
Rinse the capers, drain and place in yet another small bowl.
Slice the cipollini and set aside.
Using two wide, shallow bowls, put the buttermilk in one and the seasoned breadcrumbs in the other. See my Cook's Notes about the breadcrumbs I use.
Heat a large, heavy skillet (I used cast iron) over a medium-high flame, add olive oil to coat the bottom.
Dip one fillet in the buttermilk, coating it completely, then dip it into the breadcrumbs, coating the fillet intirely.
Place the fillet in the hot skillet and, working quickly, repeat with the other fillet.
If necessary, add more olive oil to the skillet to prevent the fillets from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the fillets are in the pan, don't move them around, let them sear for about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle half the lemon zest over each fillet.
Flip the fillets and sear the other sides another 2 to 3 minutes, maintaining the flame at medium-high and taking care that the breadcrumbs don't burn.
Sprinkle on the rest of the lemon zest, then drizzle the lemon juice and the capers around and over the fish.
Remove the pan from the heat and nest the onion slices around the fillets.
Place the pan in the oven and roast the fish for 7 to 10 minutes but no more than that or it will be overcooked.
Test for doneness by putting a fork gently into the center of one fillet and pulling up some of the meat. The meat should be moist but flake easily.

Cook's Notes:
Sadly, I used the last of my cipollini onions, which I get seasonally from our farmers market. I know I can buy them at the grocers or online, but it's just not the same. *Sigh*.

I buy lightly salted croutons from
Brio, our local artisan bakery, and keep them in the freezer. When I want breadcrumbs, I take out a cupful of croutons and buzz them in the food processor. The croutons are a mix from the breads that have been baked that week and include lots of whole wheat cubes.

One of these bass fillets made 2 generous servings paired with a side dish of roasted broccoli, carrots and whole garlic cloves. The other fillet kept Mr CC in fish taco heaven for several days and me with a delicious lunch at work.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved