Listen to this article
We arrived in Sydney’s beautiful beachside suburb of Rose Bay on one of the city’s incredibly romantic cream and green ferries, to have dinner on a glass-covered pier in a restaurant called — what else? — Pier.
Surrounded by the Pacific on three sides, with the glint of the ocean reflected in the glass and silverware, we had some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted. It was almost a decade ago and the restaurant has long since changed hands, but we still remember a sea bass dish we had there — thin slices of the freshest fish, each one precisely seasoned with salt and fresh pepper, a drop of oil, a bit of citrus and a single square of sweet tomato — pure, simple and delicious.
Most of us seem to have a slight reservation about preparing raw or cured fish at home but there’s no need. Unless you’re planning to serve fugu, that highly toxic blowfish the Japanese are so keen on, the home cook can comfortably serve the raw stuff with no risk to diners, other than not having enough of it. While cooking fish takes a bit of skill and precision, serving it raw is a simple exercise in good shopping and seasoning. With good-quality farmed bass readily available in supermarkets, the first part is easy, and with a recipe like this one, so is the second.
Lightly cure the fish with lime zest and salt, and slice the fillets to the best of your ability. The accompaniments will do the rest of the work for you — there’s sweet melon to complement the fish, rings of chilli to add some excitement, a sprinkling of herbs for interest and a scatter of poppy seed for a tiny bit of crunch.
On a sunny evening in London recently, we had some friends over. We sat around with the windows wide open, enjoying the late sun. We drank fizzy cocktails and then served this dish, a summery start to dinner. Sydney never felt closer.
Cured lime sea bass with melon and poppy seeds
Serves four as a very summery starter
This recipe should be made with super-fresh, small, firm fish
|2||small sea bass, filleted (around 400g each)|
|3 tsp||sea salt|
|Zest and juice of 1 lime|
|Picked leaves from a few sprigs of tarragon, or tiny basil leaves|
|1 tsp||poppy seeds|
|Olive oil to drizzle|
- Lay the sea bass fillets, skin side down, on a small tray. Mix the sea salt (do not use table salt) with the lime zest and sprinkle all over the fish. It may seem like a lot but this is the only salting the fish will get. Wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour and up to four. Remove the fillets from the tray, discarding any liquid that may have formed.
- Prepare four flat starter plates. Use a very sharp knife at an angle to the board to cut thin slices of fish away from the skin. Place one slice at a time on the serving plates, allowing one fillet per person.
- Cut the melon into thin slices and dot all over the plate, so there is a small slice of melon for almost every bite of fish. Do the same with the green chilli, slicing it as thinly as you can, and place a piece on each fish slice. Now repeat with the tarragon leaves and put some poppy seeds on top. Squeeze a quarter of lime over each plate and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on to each dish before serving. The idea is that each bite contains a little of everything.
Photograph: Patricia Niven