I love bass, none more than the striped bass, known variously as stripers or rockfish. But a barely legal bass — 18 inches in my area — is not really big enough to fillet. All bass have large heads and big rib cages that make the resulting fillet smaller than you think. Pacific rock cod and all snappers have this same problem, as do largemouth and smallmouth bass.
The answer? Serve them whole. Well, what if you can’t handle bones? Then things get a little trickier, but if you have a sharp knife and some patience, you can butterfly a fish, essentially removing the spine and ribs from the fish without cutting it into two pieces. You will still have to contend with fin bones, but for the most part you get a boneless fish. I wrote on my old About.com site a tutorial on how to butterfly a whole fish.
Once your fish is split like this, it is ideal for stuffing. With what? Anything, really, even a traditional turkey stuffing. But I love the combination of mushrooms and fish, and I was given some wonderful chanterelles by Earthy Delights – so I made a chanterelle stuffing. You could use any mushrooms, but chanterelles are especially wonderful here.
You will need to sew up your fish with thread. It’s not hard. Just get yourself some stout thread and lace it through the fish. I rarely even tie my thread off, because you just want to keep the stuffing from spilling out. Then, when you serve, you can just pull the thread out.
If you use an 18 to 22 inch striped bass, you can serve 3-4 people easily. But this is good to do with smaller bass, too. A typical smallmouth or rock cod will serve one person, and a snapper or largemouth maybe two people.
This recipe is based on a 20-inch striper, and it served three hearty eaters. With side dishes, you could serve four.
- 1 whole striped bass, or 3-4 smaller bass
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/2 pound fresh chanterelles or other mushrooms
- 3 chopped garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 6 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Juice of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons sherry or Marsala
- 1 teaspoon regular or smoked paprika
- Butterfly the fish as per the instructions linked above.
- Salt the fish well inside and out and set aside.
- Clean the mushrooms of any dirt or grit and chop well.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Get a large saute pan hot over medium-high heat. Add the chanterelles and dry-cook them until they begin to release their water. Sometimes chanterelles — and always with regular button mushrooms — will have a lot of water in them that needs to be cooked out before you add any oil.
- Once the water from the mushrooms is subsiding — but not totally gone — add 3 tablespoons olive oil and the onion and toss to combine. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sprinkle a little salt over everything. Cook another minute.
- Add the lemon juice, sherry, bread crumbs, parsley and paprika and toss to combine. Cook for another minute and torn off the heat. Let this cool enough to handle, about 10-15 minutes.
- Oil the fish inside and out. Spoon the stuffing inside the bass and sew up the cavity with thread.
- Gently lay the fish onto a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes. Do not flip.
- Remove the fish and pull out the thread. Carefully move it to a serving platter, or to a cutting board to cut into serving sizes. The bottom will look ugly, so keep the side that was facing up while baking up on the plate, too.
- Serve with a Spanish Albarino or a California Chenin Blanc.