Grilled Sea Bass with Parsley Salad

Simple food does not always mean it is easy to prepare. There are techniques involved with this Japanese style of grilling which you will need to approach with care. Note the word 'care' and not 'trepidation'.

Sea bass has enjoyed a growing vogue in recent years and is one of the few bony fish people in Britain and the USA have embraced enthusiastically. Chinese restaurants were the first to popularize it typically steaming the fish with ginger and spring onion.

As you will be paying a lot of money for your sea bass, insist that your fishmonger scales and cleans them for you and trims off the dorsal spikes. (These are, incidentally, poisonous. Get one of those under your skin and it will hurt) You will need 350 g/¾ lb of whole fish for each person. However, do not attempt to grill a fish larger than 900 g/2lb in weight as while cooking the thickness of the flesh around the spinal bone the outside will overcook and dry out.

You may like to try the salt-grilling technique with mackerel first as it is a fraction of the cost of sea bass and works just as well.

You can use either a heavy ridged iron griddle, as in the restaurant, or a Hibachi-style barbecue, which works perfectly because you don't want the temperature too high. A domestic grill will also deliver good results so long as you set the pan about 10cm / 4 in away from the heat source, or as far as your stove configuration allows. The timing is the same in all cases.

The parsley salad is taken from Gay Bilson of Berowra Waters restaurant in New South Wales. If any dish represents my 'melting pot' approach it is this. You will need one really large bunch of flat leaf parsley - different shops call it different things: Cyprus, Italian, Chinese, Egyptian. Do not try to substitute English or French curly parsley.

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Ingredients

  • 2 whole sea bass, each weighing about 675g/
  • very large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 16 black olives
  • 1 shallot, spring onion or red onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 10 salt-packed capers (not those ones you buy in jars, which are usually disgusting)
  • 4 Home-dried Tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar 300ml/½ pt extra virgin olive oil (the best quality you can get)
  • 2 lemons
  • salt and pepper
  • chunk of Reggiano Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Utensils

  • ridged grilling pan or Hibachi-type charcoal barbecue (it must be large enough for the fish to be contained within the cooking area)
  • long-tined carving fork
  • olive Stoner
  • salad spinner

Method

Mise en Place

Heat the grilling pan or light the barbecue charcoal well in advance. If using a grilling pan, do not put it on the highest heat.

If the body cavity of the sea bass has any blood in it, clean it by rubbing with salt and then rinsing under cold running water. Using a very sharp knife, cut 2 slashes on each side of the fish down to the bone. This will help the heat distribution and ensure even cooking. Sprinkle the outside of the fish liberally with sea salt Do not brush the skin with oil.

Pick the parsley leaves off the stalks, discarding the stalks or reserving them for stock. Wash the parsley and spin it dry.

Stone the olives. Then chop them by hand together with the shallot, garlic, capers and dried tomatoes. Do not use a processor, which will purée the ingredients (the pieces should have separate definition). Assemble all these in a salad bowl, pour over the vinegar and olive oil and set aside. Do not add the parsley at this point.

Cooking

Grill the fish on one side for about 5 minutes. Leave it alone - however tempted you may be to push it around, don’t do it as you will only damage the skin. Wait until you see signs of cooking: the colour changing as it cooks and the head and tail starting to lift slightly. If barbecuing, you can tell the degree of doneness by the state of the skin - moisture released inside the fish will cause the skin to balloon slightly. At this point carefully slide the fork under the fish, working from the tail and pushing along the length of the fish. Lift the fish and turn it over. If you try to turn it by lifting from the middle the fish will break.

As the other side of the fish cooks, finish the salad by adding the parsley to the other ingredients. Dress with the olive oil and toss. You can shave Parmesan cheese over the salad if you like the idea. Try the combination and see whether you prefer it with or without.

Serving

If you have individual fish for each person, then send them to the table on separate plates: place a handful of the salad beside each fish and a half lemon on the other side. If you are working with larger fish, then present them on a serving plate for people to help themselves.

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