Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sea bass

Like any other normal couple, S and I fight. Mostly about insignificant, everyday little things like who's gonna do the dishes or when I plan to stop buying cookbooks. Yes, that is a problem. At least in S's mind.

Food bloggers are known for having a lot of cookbooks and I'm no exception. I love them, I crave them, much like I crave the dishes they contain. I don't go overboard, I don't buy too many of them—honestly, I'm still in double digits, don't ask me about magazines though—and I certainly don't buy a cookbook simply because it's fashionable. I actually hate that.

I buy the ones that are really going to offer me something different. Cookbooks that are going to teach me something, introduce me to new methods of cooking or ingredients, open my mind to novel ideas. I prefer to buy cookbooks that are going to expand my gastronomic horizons and not only those that look pretty and cute, even though I'm tempted.

There have been times when I was disappointed by a cookbook I had bought, much like many of you, I'm sure, either because the recipes weren't detailed enough or the results were not satisfying. That has made me a tough critic and now, before buying, I do my research. As I did with this one, Heston Blumenthal at home.

It's Heston's cooking, innovative dishes with a twist, but without the liquid nitrogen and the crazy gadgetry. Well, almost. It is upscale cooking adapted for home cooks and that I absolutely love since I'm always trying to find special dishes to recreate for special occasions.

When I saw his recipe for sea bass with vanilla butter I was excited. I imagined the delicate flesh and flavor of the fish paired with the spicy vanilla and I was intrigued. I was also perplexed about how it was going to taste, but I was definitely game.

For anyone who associates vanilla solely with desserts, this dish might need a little getting used to. When the aroma of the vanilla hits you, you might instinctively be expecting to savor something sweet which might turn you off. Try to keep an open mind. The taste buds need the exercise.

The pairing is fabulous. The subtlety of the sea bass with its crispy skin and flavorful flesh, stands well against the slightly sweet and creamy vanilla butter. It's a different, elegant dish that steers away from the mainstream, which is exactly what's appealing to me. It's not an every day dish, though it could be, but more suited for special occasions that deserve a little more care and attention.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillets with Vanilla Butter
Barely adapted from Heston Blumenthal at home

Pair this dish with a green salad with crispy apples, and some small sautéed potatoes.

The vanilla butter is an excellent concoction. And you know what? You can keep it in the fridge and use it the next day on your breakfast pancakes. Versatility in all its glory.

You only need the vanilla seeds for the vanilla butter so you're left with the empty pods that you can add to a jar of sugar and make your very own vanilla sugar.

Yield: 4 main-course servings


for the vanilla butter
3 vanilla pods
120 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the fish
4 fresh sea bass fillets (400-450 g), with skin
Olive oil, for frying
Sea salt
40 g vanilla butter

Special equipment: hand-held mixer, plastic wrap


for the vanilla butter
Take the vanilla pods and cut each in half lengthwise, using the tip of a small and sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds with the knife and add them to a small bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and using a hand-held mixer, mix the butter with the vanilla seeds until you have a soft and smooth mixture.

Empty the vanilla butter in a large piece of plastic wrap and roll it into a log. Twist the edges to seal. Place it in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm, before using it on top of the fish fillets.

You can keep the vanilla butter in the fridge for 1 week or you can keep it in the freezer for 1 month.

for the fish
Take the fillets out of the refrigerator half an hour before cooking them in order to come to room temperature. Rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels.

In a large, non-stick frying pan add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat over high heat and when the oil starts to shimmer, season the fish with sea salt on both sides and add them, skin side down, to the pan. (I cooked two fish fillets at a time.)
Fry the fish for 2 minutes, until the skin crisps up, pressing it lightly down with a spatula so it doesn't curl up. Then turn the fish over and cook for 1 minute, pressing gently with a spatula and being careful not to break it up. Remove the fillets from the pan and place them straight onto the plates.

Cut four 10 g-disks from the vanilla butter log and place each disk on top of each hot sea bass fillet. The butter will melt on top of the fish creating a light sauce.

If you want to be a little more cautious with the vanilla butter, you can add 5 g instead of 10 g on each fillet of fish or you can just rub the fish with the butter and don't allow all of it to melt onto the fish. The flavor will be lighter and subtler.


  1. Ooooh, you had me a vanilla butter! Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  2. Very interesting, Magda. I don't believe I've ever tasted vanilla in a savory dish. I'm intrigued.

  3. Magda you made me laugh. My other half has an issue with my kitchen gadgets and kitchen stuff that I never have enough of.. The fish looks stunning... interesting what our senses expect and then surprising your pallet with savoury when it is expecting sweet!

  4. I am now afraid to count my cookbooks... I love the idea of vanilla butter for a savory dish, much mike using herbs in sweet dishes. I will definitely try this soon! ~ David

  5. I'm intrigued by this combination, fish and vanilla, it is so unexpected that I have to try it some day soon!

  6. Anna — I'm glad you like it.

    Denise — I was intrigued too when I discovered it in the cookbook. Give it a try!

    Lara — oh, yes, S has a problem with my kitchen gadgets and stuff as well. I can't help it, I love my kitchen equipment :)

    David — you're so right. It's exactly like that!

    ilva — unexpected and delicious. I'm sure you'll love it!

  7. Now you have me wondering about the vanilla thing... Not sure I am adventurous enough...

  8. Hi Magda,fried fish and vanilla butter together..very interesting combination..I would have to convince my boys first, although I do like experimenting with food..Have a good week :)

  9. Oh my how heavenly that butter sounds...butter and vanilla..what on earth or in heaven could be better?

  10. Fish, butter & vanilla... mmmm. you got me drooling again! Love vanilla with savoury dishes [soooo good with asparagus].
    I'm gonna have to take a look into that book too! ;-)

    1. Hi Myriam! Yes, it's a surprisingly flavorsome combination.
      The book is great!

  11. You just sent me back to a dish from my adolescence that I cannot forget. It was vanilla lobster and it was amazing! I am definitely going to do this!!! Do you think you can roast the fish instead of frying? I wonder if I could do this for a dinner party.