If you’ve been to an upscale Manhattan seafood restaurant, chances are you’ve seen Black Sea Bass on the menu. New York chefs drive the bulk of the demand for this tasty Atlantic fish, but you don’t have to be a fancy New York City chef to put Black Sea Bass on the table. Sea bass fished off the coast of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware is caught sustainably under a catch share program which ensures that catch limits are not exceeded and fish populations can maintain healthy numbers. It is important to note, however, that not all sea bass caught on the Atlantic coast is sustainably managed, so it is best to ask your chef or seafood vendor where the fish was caught to ensure you are supporting fishermen who are fishing sustainably.
This week’s ‘Fish on Fridays’ post features VA black sea bass, currently managed under an ITQ system. Jack Stallings and his partner at Virginia Beach’s Coastal Grill have shared their technique for frying sea bass whole and serving it with scallion butter.
Meet a fisherman and restaurant owner: Jack Stallings
Stallings has been a commercial, hook and line Black Sea Bass fisherman for years. He remembers fishing for it long before it was under Virginia’s IFQ (catch share) program, when the competition was fierce and fishermen were restricted to quarterly quotas that glutted the market and lowered the price they’d get for their catch. Once the IFQ went into effect in 2004, he said, he could pick and choose when to fish, going out when he knew demand (and prices) would be highest, and when he was sure the fish would be biting.
“We know when the trawlers are catching a lot of fish and when they’d be landing,” he said. “We can work in between their landings. We know when prices are low, so we can save our quota for other times, when prices are higher.”
But Stallings doesn’t fish as much as he used to. Now that he’s 65 and semi-retired, he spends more of his time focused on the restaurant he co-owns. Black Sea Bass is only one of many species they cook up for their customers; he’s quick to note that it’s more popular in New York than it is in Virginia Beach.
Black Sea Bass:
One of four species jointly managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Black Sea Bass can be fished year round, though it is harder to catch during the summer spawning months. It is a flaky, white fish when cooked that is used in chowder, fried, grilled or stuffed. It can be found near the rocky bottom of the ocean and has stiff dorsal fins that should be handled with care. Stallings said his restaurant serves it with the fins still on.
Fried Black Sea Bass at Coastal Grill
Whole fresh black sea bass
3 Fresh scallions, chopped
1 stick butter, melted
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
For the scallion butter:
Sauté the scallions in vegetable oil. Add to the melted butter.
For the fish:
Scale, gut and remove the gills from the fish. Leave on the head, the tail and the fins.
Make three vertical cuts in each side of the fish to allow it to cook evenly. Then roll in corn starch. Shake it by the tail to remove excess starch, and then, still holding it by the tail, dip it into a fryer “for as long as you dare,” or about five seconds. This makes the fins stand out.
Then “turn it loose” into the fryer and cook for three to four minutes. Remove from fryer, let it drain and set it on the plate.
Drizzle with scallion butter and serve.