Beautiful white fish with foraged alliums
Sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) often also known as European Bass or Branzino is a favourite on restaurant menus thanks to it's delicate flavour, soft flesh and general air of sophistication. With it's gorgeous silvery grey colour it's quite the Ondine of the seafood world. Found in European and North African waters, most of the fish we eat here is farmed in the Med which can offer a reasonably sustainable choice (see the Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide for more info). It's not cheap either, so I like to balance the environmental impact and cost against its taste, versatility and glamour to enjoy a few times a year.
I've paired it here with wild garlic, the thinner three corned leek version with pretty white bell flowers seems to appear earlier ('on the sunny side of the street') while the thicker ramsons with pompom blooms shoot up in shady, damper conditions; these were from near the Water of Leith. They are all related to the oniony allium family and you can use chives, garlic chives or spring onion at other times of year.
The green shoots of wild garlic are one of the cheeriest signs of spring, so enjoy it while you can, though a friend of mine claims he's seen it growing here in August - that's Scotland for you. As ever, forage responsibly and take an experienced forager with you if you're a beginner.
This method of cooking fish is great; I use an Ikea 'non-stick' frying pan I've had for ten years and a plastic fish slice and always get decent results. Get the pan high and the fish dry, and it should come together okay.
- 2 sea bass fillets with skin on (these were £22.84/kg, farmed in the Mediterranean)
- 50g unsalted butter
- small handful wild garlic leaves, well washed (ramsons or three corned leek)
- sea salt and black pepper
- 500g new potatoes
- handful of frozen peas
- olive oil
- small handful chopped parsley (curly or flat)
- small knob of unsalted butter
- 500g spinach, well washed
- grating of nutmeg
- chopping board
- chef's knife
- mixing bowls
- medium and large saucepans
- frying pan
- kitchen roll
- wooden spoon
- metal spoon
- fish slice
- Finely chop the wild garlic and mash with the unsalted butter. Set aside.
- Boil the potatoes; when nearly done throw in the peas, return to the boil and then drain. Crush lightly while still warm and toss in a little olive oil with the parsley.
- Melt the knob of butter in the bigger saucepan and add the spinach, nutmeg, seasoning and any leftover wild garlic leaves. Put the lid on and leave for a few minutes to wilt. Drain well.
- For the fish pat the fillets really dry with kitchen roll on both sides, then lightly butter the flesh side with a little unsalted butter.
- Heat the frying pan till nearly smoking hot, then add the fish flesh side down. Lessen the heat and cook for a few minutes, then turn. Throw in a few spoonfuls of the wild garlic butter, basting the fish as it melts. Give it 1-2 minutes, basting the fish as the butter melts.
- Season and serve with the veg. Garnish with wild garlic flowers.