In my last post, I showed off my five pound box of seafood from Red’s Best out of Boston. Two pounds were of black sea bass – a seasonally local fish here in New England that I’ve never tried. What surprised me more is that none of my fishing friends or family ever tried it either! Even my dad, the Striper King never threw one on the grill. I recall two occasions where we got black sea bass in our lobster traps, but we tossed them back since they looked small.
For a guy that runs a seafood blog, and grew up in the historic Gloucester fishing industry, it’s a little embarrassing that I’ve eaten quite a bit of Asian sea bass (aka barramundi) before I ever tried our local black sea bass. It was time to change all that as I broke out a thawed package from Red’s Best for a weeknight dinner.
About Black Sea Bass
Black sea bass (Centropristis striata) is a small sea bass belonging to the same family as groupers. The species is exclusive to the East coast of the US from Florida to Massachusetts. They are a popular and important fish for both recreation and commercial fisheries with the commercial catch regulated based on geography. Throughout its range black sea bass are caught with hook and line gear, otter trawl and fish pots. These fish pots apparently look and work just like lobster traps, except they are not baited.
Black sea bass are not overfished anywhere in its range and the catch is regulated along with summer flounder (fluke) and scup in my area. In recent years the few dozen commercial sea bass fishermen located on the South Shore fill the Massachusetts quota in two months or less. Recreational fishermen have a much longer season for black sea bass than the fishing boats.
Even though black sea bass is available year round, it depends upon where you live. Where I live, you stop seeing it for sale or on menus after the fall just like striped bass. That’s if you see it at all, the vast majority of the local catch of black sea bass gets shipped to New York City. However I’ve heard anecdotes from fishermen and seafood buyers that they are more black sea bass and they are sticking around longer due to warming waters.
Black Sea Bass From Red’s Best
At the time of my purchase, Red’s Best was selling these frozen one-pound bag of black sea bass for $18. Thanks to the incredible tracing system used by Red’s Best, I learned exactly where my fish came from. Although I couldn’t get the QR code to work, the tag told me both of my packages of black sea bass were caught by Niles Leaf out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts aboard the F/V Thumper, using fish pots.
Back in the old days, which were not that long ago, you had to know the guy to get this much information on your fish. Red’s Best is doing a great service to both consumers and the fishermen. We get to learn about where our food comes from and fishermen can be acknowledged for the often thankless and always dangerous job they do.
Once thawed and removed from the sealed packaging I was greeted with three nice looking skin-on fillets. Since black sea bass are usually under five pounds each, these are probably the biggest fillets I could get. Notice how they were all “left-sided” fillets. I assume the other package in my freezer will be the “right-sided” fillets from the same three fish. Although a small fish, the three fillets were firm and meaty. No doubt they would cook up nice for two people.
The dark skin resembled the skin-on barramundi I’ve tried in the past thanks to my friends at Australis. However the meat is lighter in color, an opaque white. I could also see the family resemblance to grouper. Just by looking at them there was no doubt that these Red’s Best black sea bass were high quality.
Usually I would have a recipe here for black sea bass, but I wanted to treat these fillets very simply so I could really taste the sea bass itself. However I did find an old-timey recipe for sea bass in my historic seafood cookbook From Head To Tale. Check it out at the end of the post.
Pan-Seared Black Sea Bass
I don’t know how this would classify as a recipe: Get your pan and oil/butter hot, wipe your fish dry, cook for 5 minutes on skin side, then another 2-3 minutes on the other. One tip: score the skin side twice with a knife so the fillets don’t cup while cooking.
So after a simple pan sear and topped with butter and lemon, the black sea bass was a hit! The fish cooks up white, tender, but enough firmness to not fall apart. Compared to striped bass, it is similar but has a bit more flavor. I would choose black sea bass over striper now that I’ve tried both.
The crispy skin and flavor also reminded me a little of the barramundi I’ve tried from Australis. You can see why fish that are not closely related can all be called “sea bass” based on similarities in taste and/or texture. Similar but not identical. All of these fish are a little different and I recommend trying as many as you can.
Thoughts on Red’s Best Black Sea Bass
Not only was the sea bass from Red’s Best delicious, it was also of incredible quality. I’m looking forward to trying the other fish I got from them and I suggest you check out their selection as well.
If I didn’t have access to amazing fish right downtown in Gloucester, Red’s Best would certainly be a go-to supplier.
Have you ever tried Red’s Best? Are you thinking about trying their seafood? Let us all know about your experiences in the comments!
Historic Recipe: Matelote of Sea Bass – 1908
Clean three pounds of sea-bass and cut in convenient pieces for serving. Put into a saucepan with a bunch of parsley, salt and pepper to season, and a teaspoonful of sweet herbs. Add two onions, sliced, and two small cloves of garlic. Cover with equal parts of stock and Claret and simmer slowly until the fish is done. Move the fish carefully to a serving-dish and strain the liquid into another saucepan. Brown two tablespoonfuls of flour in as much butter as is required to make a smooth paste, add the liquid, and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Add to the sauce three tablespoonfuls of essence of anchovy and some mushrooms and small button onions fried brown in butter. Pour over the fish and serve.