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Feb 22, 2011 04:35 PM

Totally Ruined the Chilean Sea Bass Last Night

I always eat it in restaurants, and I'm actually usually a pretty good cook. But last night's dinner went into the garbage half-eaten!

Our local store had some "fresh" (I hope) Chilean sea bass on sale, so I bought two large, thick filets -- enough for two meals for the three of us. I froze them because I wasn't ready to cook them right away. So, last night I decided on cooking one of them with a recipe and technique that I usually (and successfully) give other thick, white fish -- I seared both sides in EVOO, seasoned with Cajun seasoning, and put it in the oven at 425 degrees. I did defrost it thoroughly beforehand.

My house filled with smoke, and it seemed to take forever to cook. Nearly 35 minutes went by and I decided to check the temperature with an instant read, and found it at 165. The filets had puffed up -- I swear they were one third thicker than when I put it in the pan. The result was a slimy dinner with a bland taste. Only the top, with the crust and seasoning, was edible. Everyone seems to love cooking this fish, so what did I do wrong? Not cook it long enough? I don't think I want to risk the smoke alarms going off, which is what I was worrying about last night. Why so smoky? The oven was clean before hand, and I had to clean it again this morning What a greasy mess this fish was. Little EVOO in the pan, if you are wondering.

If anyone has a better suggestion for how to prepare this fish, I still have another large filet in the freezer. All suggestions are welcome.

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  1. Not sure what you mean by "little EVOO" but from the smoke and the slimy fish that you describe, it sounds like too much oil was used, and some of it may have spilled from the pan when you were putting the pan into the oven. Just a guess on my part, however.

    Chilean sea bass is a pretty fatty and oily fish as it is (some call it the "Ribeye of the Sea").

    If I am searing sea bass, I do it on a non-stick pan and use basically no oil.

    A sort of fool proof way to cook sea bass is simply to bake it. B/c it is so fatty it can stand up to the dry heat without, well, drying out. Season the fish with salt and pepper, preheat your oven to 400F, then bake the fish for about 12 minutes (assuming the fillets are about 1 inch thick). Serve with some lemon butter sauce, or if you want to go basic, just a squeeze of lemon.

    Hope that helps and good luck.

    1. 425 for 35 minutes seems like something for bone-in whole, larger fish, not fillets. 165 is pretty high.

      1. RGC,

        First, I am sorry to hear this. Chilean sea bass is one of my favor too. Usually, I pan-fry these fillet. As for the smoke, it may come from the extra virgin olive oil because it is an oil with very low smoke point. Chilean sea bass is a very fatty fish, so it will create a lot of oil when it is cooked. Like Jaykayen said, the temperature and time you described are very aggressive. Maybe you have a very thick fillet, I don't know, but 35 minutes seem look to me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Hi Chem,

          It WAS a very thick fillet, and what I found odd was that I had found a recipe on line that was practically identical to it -- same temp, same seasoning, same oil. Maybe I shouldn't follow everything online so blindly!

          I don't think that I overcooked it. In fact, I think it was underdone a bit, and that was why it seemed so slimy to me. Maybe I need to go low and slow -- and without the oil. The only reason I put any oil in it at all was that I wanted to sear a crust on it first, and then put it in the oven. Believe me, I do the same thing with catfish or redfish or tilapia, and it works great. But then again, they are 1/3 the thickness of this fillet. Worse, like I said, I can swear it got thicker by 33% once it cooked.

          I wonder if doing it without oil, and just baking at a lower temp will work with the other fillet I have. I can always turn on the broiler to get a little browning. Have you ever tried grilling it, or is it not a good fish for that?

          1. re: RGC1982


            Oh I see. Yeah, I think you are right. If it is very thick, then maybe the high heat couldn't quite penetrate and that the oil the surface was burning/smoking, while the interior was not hot enough to cook. If you think it was not cooked through, then the "low and slow" will work better. You can always turn the heat to broil to finish the fillet to give it a crusty surface. On the other hand, one can always try to sear the fillet on the pan just a bit longer before bring it to the oven. The reason is that heat transfer much better on a pan than in an oven. So let's say you seared the fish on a frying pan for 2-3 minutes last time, then you can try 7-8 minutes next time.

            In my case, I usually do a pan fry for Chilean sea bass. First, high heat to give it a sear like you did, and then lower the heat and put a cover on the pan. No, I have not tried grilling it, but I cannot imagine why it won't be good on a grill.

            Sorry I cannot be more helpful, but I am interested in your next trial. Keep us update and so we can learn more. I am going to see if I can get hold of a Chilean sea bass too.

        2. I'm wondering if instead of Chilean Sea Bass you actually got Escolar. Escolar has a very high oil content and could easily cause smoking when cooked at this temp for 35 minutes.

          3 Replies
          1. re: cigarmedic4

            It occurred to me that the low price (eight dollars a pound lower than normal -- the "sale") might mean that the store was not selling what they said they were selling. This fish was very, very oily. My entire oven was coated as though I had sprayed cooking spray on it, and the grates were so coated that the oil actually started to dissolve the discoloration that you normally find on oven grates after they are used for a while. They actually look brand new after I washed them! Plus, this fish was about 1 1/2 inches thick to start, and then it seemed to puff up to over two inches when cooked. I have never seen that with any kind of fish before.

            1. re: RGC1982

              It's not uncommon for Escolar to be passed off as Sea Bass or other fish. It is a very oily fish, and the oil content can approach 25%. Due to the oil content, and that the oil is actually a waxy ester, cooking it at high temperature can easily cause spattering of the oil. Escolar is actually banned in Japan due to its less than pleasant side effects. If you eat more than 6oz in a day, you will find out why its nickname is "Ex-lax fish".

              1. re: cigarmedic4

                Maybe it was a good thing that my family and I didn't like it enough to finish eating it.

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