Yesterday, I was so bored that I thought I might go cross-eyed. So what do you do during a pandemic for entertainment? Turn going to the store into a quest and treat yourself to the freshest seafood you can find.
Turns out, my little trip to the store scratched the itch because I returned home with a whole fresh sea bream and a better attitude. I reveled in the kitchen with my fillet knife in hand, doing my best to separate each fillet from bone; my cat was the beneficiary of this activity as he gobbled up a few scraps.
Since it’s been so hot here, I opted to pan-sear the fillets in a bit of olive oil. To accentuate the freshness of the fish, there’s fresh parsley and little salty, briny pops of flavor from capers and green olives; I love the way the meaty texture of Castelventrano olives compliment the fish.
To top everything off, I quickly pickled some red onion slices using just lemon juice, zest, and salt which really moved the entire fish into restaurant quality territory.
No exaggeration, everything from the cook of the fish to the olive sauce is sensational. I feel confident that this is one of the all time best fish recipes you will ever taste.
What does sea bream taste like?
Chefs adore sea bream for its purity of flavor; it has an incredibly clean taste and satisfying meaty texture. In the fine dining restaurant where I used to work, we served sea bream as an appetizer lightly torched with lemon infused olive oil, and we sold out every night.
How to Cook Sea Bream Fillets
Sea Bream has large scales that should be removed. Ask your butcher to do this to save yourself the mess. Once the scales have been removed, the skin crisps up nicely when seared in a hot pan. You can substitute scaled sea bass or tilefish.
For best results, pat the fillets dry with a paper towel before pan frying to get skin that crisps up like potato chips. Please note that sea bream fillets will begin to curl from the heat and lift away from the pan in the center; gently press the fish down with a spatula while searing the skin so the center area makes direct contact with the heat.
Top Tips for Cooking Fish Perfectly
- Wait for the oil to get hot before placing the fillet in the skillet. You will see a little wisp of smoke rise from the surface of the oil when it’s ready.
- Cook skin side down longer to get a crispy texture.
- Since cook time is variable from one fillet to the next depending on thickness, use your eyes to determine doneness. Fully cooked fish is opaque and flaky, but still very moist.
- Always season fish before cooking for the best possible flavor; fresh fish needs little more than salt and pepper.
Crispy Sea Bream with Olives and Pickled Onion
- 1 lemon zest plus juice
- ½ red onion thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt for the onion
- 1 2 1/2 pound sea bream descaled and cut into 2 fillets with skin on, you may remove bones with tweezers if desired
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ½ cup green olives such as Castelvetrano, pits removed
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 2.85 oz bunch parsley (about 1/2 cup) finely chopped
- Zest and juice the lemon over a small bowl. Add the onion and salt then squeeze the onion slices with your fingers to break the cell walls and distribute the salt and lemon juice. Set aside to pickle for at least 10 minutes until bright fuscia and soft (reserve the pickle juice for serving).
- Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Pat the fillets dry with paper towel then season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the fillets in the skillet, skin side down. Cook until the flesh is half-cooked and the skin is crisp, about 6 minutes. Turn fillets and immediately turn the heat off. Surround the fillets with the olives, capers, and parsley. The residual heat will continue to cook the fish until opaque and flaky, about 4 minutes.
- Serve the fillets with the olive parsley sauce from the pan and top with the pickled onion plus the lemon juice in the bottom of the bowl.
How to Buy FishI love when fish is sold whole because then you can really see for yourself how fresh it is. Really fresh fish will have bright and clear eyes and the flesh will be firm to the touch. Fresh fish should smell pleasant, like the ocean. You can fillet the fish yourself or ask the fish monger to do it for you. *Sea bream, black sea bass, tilefish, or cod would all work well in this recipe.
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