With its sleek, gray body, tinged with pink, the European Sea Bass is, aesthetically speaking, an attractive creature. American chefs find it attractive for other reasons. The obliging Sea Bass is predictably plentiful (being mostly farm-raised in Mediterranean waters) and predictably sized. One whole fish is usually about right for one person. And this person, eater of the Bass, appreciates how easy it is to debone and how good it tastes. Just about anyone can like eating this white-fleshed fish.
For centuries, people have been grilling, baking and frying the Bass whole. “Let no Syracusan and no Greek of Italy come near you when you make this dish,” warned an earnest soul in ancient Miletus, “They [will] wickedly spoil it by putting cheese over everything.” American partisans on both sides of the issue of dry rub versus wet barbecue will sympathize with a kindred soul from the distant past who rallied round his region’s culinary standard.
At the fish counter, the Sea Bass may be lying on ice under an assumed name. Sometimes it is called ‘Loup de Mer’ (Wolf of the Sea), a name the Bass has earned on account of its excellent appetite and its propensity to travel in groups. In France, it is also ‘Bar’. And in the United States, the Bass is commonly known by its Italian name ‘Branzino’.
There is no big mystery about successfuly grilling a whole fish. A good technique is all you need. The Congolese have one that works well for cooking a whole fish without drying it out. This is the one used here for grilling a whole Sea Bass. The marinade for the fish is also Congolese in origin, given to the diplomatickitchen by a chef in Kinshasa. It is not authentic to any place and is first-rate.
Grilled European Sea Bass ~ Congo Style (for 6 people)
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF.
- 6 Sea Bass, about 3/4 pound each: scaled and cleaned, head on or off–whichever you prefer
- 3 cloves of Garlic, cut in pieces
- a 1-inch chunk of fresh Ginger, peeled and cut in pieces: this isn’t a precise measurement, and only gives an idea of how much ginger to use
- 1 Chicken Bouillon Cube, smashed up
- 2 teaspoons of Soy Sauce
- 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
- 2 teaspoons of dried Thyme
- the juice of a large Lemon
- 1 medium-sized Onion, cut in pieces
- fresh ground Salt and Black Pepper
- a Food Processor or Blender
- a couple of large Zip-lock Bags in which to marinate the fish
- an Outdoor Grill: the photographed Bass are grilled over a charcoal fire
- the usual Grilling Utensils and a Brush for basting the fish with the marinade while they grill
Optional Accompaniment: Lemon halves tied up in Cheesecloth
- 3 lemons, halved
- Raffia or string
Marinating the Bass
1. A fresh fish will be firm to the touch. Its gill will be rosy…
…and its eye will be clear:
2. Mix all the Marinade ingredients (garlic, ginger, bouillon cube, soy sauce, olive oil, thyme lemon juice and onion) to a paste in the blender or food processor. Add a few grinds of salt and black pepper.
3. Cut a few diagonal gashes down to the bone along the sides of the fish and rub the marinade all over them…
…and into the gashes:
4. Divide the fish between a couple of zip-lock plastic bags along with the marinade. Marinating the fish a day in advance is both possible and (taste-wise) preferable:
Grilling the Bass
1. Oil the rack of the grill very well. When the coals are greying and almost ready, put the rack over the coals and heat it until it is hot.
2. Place the fish on the hot grill rack over the coals. Keep the reserved marinade and a brush nearby and baste the fish with the marinade from time to time as they cook.
3. Grill on the first side for about 12 minutes, turn and grill for another 12 minutes on the second side. 24 minutes total is about the right amount of time for grilling a 3/4-pound Bass. But not all fish are equal, and here is the Congolese rule for telling when the fish are done: The whole fish will not stick to the grill if it is done. Even if the grill has been well oiled, a fish that is not quite done will stick to it. When it is done, the Bass filets part easily from the bone:
Golden Sauteed Baby Potatoes are a good accompaniment to this fish…
…and so is fresh lemon juice. Wrapping lemon halves in cheesecloth keeps the seeds off the fish and looks pretty. Here are the simple directions for…
Lemon Halves Tied up in Cheesecloth
- 3 Lemons, halved
- 6 Cheesecloth squares: 2 layers thick, about 7″ x 7″ each in size
- Raffia or String
1. Place a lemon half, cut side down, in the middle of a cheesecloth square:
2. Bring up the sides of the cloth over the lemon:
3. Gather up the ends of the cloth and tie several strands of raffia around them to bundle up the lemon in the cloth:
4. For raffia, trim the ends and separate them into cat’s whiskers:
A Note: Grilled European Sea Bass ~ Congo Style is the Main Course of the Lunch Menu: Lunch from Grill in the the Congo.
A Second Note: The quote about cooking Sea Bass comes from Andrew Dalby’s book Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. You might enjoy previewing sections of the book here at GoogleBooks.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012