Saturday, March 8, 2014


Farmed fish--gilt-head bream, left; sea bass, right.
An offer I couldn’t resist—lubina, fresh, whole sea bass, at €2.50 each (about $3.50 for a fish weighing about 1 pound, including head).  I bought a couple of them. Two one-pound fish serve two, three or four persons, depending on how much fish you can eat. Me, I can easily eat a whole one all by myself.

At a local market.
The bass, as well as dorada, gilt-head bream, come to local markets from a fish farm where they are raised in a manner respectful of the environment. The aquaculture station of Veta la Palma, located near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, south of Sevilla and bordering the nature preserve of Coto Doñana, raises fish in artificial wetlands, a managed and sustainable ecosystem, created by pumping water through canals to create marshy, saline ponds where fish feed on natural algae and tiny shrimp. So healthy is the environment that it shelters 250 different bird species.

For more about Veta la Palma and aquaculture, see the links at the end of this post, following the recipe. Fresh fish from Veta la Palma is marketed in the US and may be available at your favorite restaurant.

The fish I buy are excellent. Here’s a way I first learned to prepare them at chiringuitos, beach shacks, on the Málaga and Cádiz coasts. This recipe is typically made with a large whole fish, cooked in a rectangular metal pan called a besuguera, on a bed of sliced potatoes, onions, peppers and tomatoes.

Ready for the oven--sea bass on a layer of potatoes and vegetables.
A whole fish weighing 4-5 pounds will serve 4 to 6 people. As the market size of the aquaculture bass are about 1 pound, I usually use one per person. The fish need to be gutted and scales removed. In Spain, the fish is baked whole, with the head. But, if your fish market sells fish with the head already removed, that’s fine too.

If using individual-sized fish, I serve them whole, letting each person remove bones (provide dishes for the debris). But, if using a large fish, it is best filleted in the kitchen after baking and served onto heated dinner plates with scoops of potatoes.

Potatoes soak up tasty juices from the fish, wine.

Baked Fish with Potatoes
Pescado al Horno

Serves 4.

4 1-pound sea bream or bass
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 green pepper, cut in strips
Salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup water

Have the fish gutted and scaled. Rub fresh fish inside and out with salt and leave it to set for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Pour half the oil into a large flameproof oven pan (a roasting pan could be used) and add half the sliced potatoes. Sprinkle over half the garlic, parsley and peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add all the sliced onions, most of the tomatoes, then the remaining potatoes, garlic, parsley and peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the fish on top of the potatoes and top with the remaining slices of tomato. Drizzle with remaining oil. Tuck in the pieces of bay leaf. Pour over the wine and water. Cover the pan with foil and bake until the potatoes are tender, about 35 minutes. Remove the foil during the last 15 minutes. Add water, if necessary, so the potatoes always have some liquid.

Baked sea bass with potatoes.

About the fish farm at Veta la Palma

Chef Dan Barber's TED talk about "How I fell in love with a fish," also about sustainable aquaculture at Veta la Palma.

Sea bass, oven-ready.
Gilt-head bream have a distinctive golden band between the eyes.


  1. I use a bit more olive oil, and add the wine half way through the baking process. Also I use rock salt flakes, instead of rubbing the fish in salt. At this time of year (April) I serve it with fresh green asparagus which I pan fry on a griddle pan with a touch of olive oil. Also I stuff the fish with wild fennel and some lemon rind and the parsley stalks. I don't have a bay tree nearby so I tend to use wild rosemary instead. This is my idea of Marbella heaven..for under 4€!

    1. Don Ross Antonio: That does sound heavenly. I like your idea of stuffing the fish with fennel.