The French name bar dates back to the 12th century. It is derived from the Dutch borstel, meaning hair, silk, and brush, and received its name because of its many dorsal fin spines.
This fish has always been eaten like any other types of seafood. It is known that sea bass was appreciated in Provence during the Middle Ages.
But it was not particularly sought after. It was only in the 20th century that it started to be seen as a prestigious fish and to appear in the best restaurants.
Alexandre Dumas was not particularly fond of it, but said that grilled sea bass made women lewd... Escoffier dedicated three lines to it in Le Guide Culinaire!
In Europe, distinction is made between –
Line-caught sea bass:
Caught with rods, trolling, or longline, as its name indicates, using small boats less than 12 meters in length. Fish caught with this method receives an eco-label. Pulled up onto the boat still alive, they are identified with a tag fixed to a gill indicating their origin and the boat number. This is the best sea bass. In order to preserve the species, Breton fishermen do not catch fish between January and the end of March, the spawning period.
Trawled sea bass:
Caught with nets on the high sea, they are more likely to die packed in the nets. The flesh is of lower quality.
However they are caught, the legal size for capture is 36 cm in the Atlantic, North Sea, and English Channel, and 25 cm in the Mediterranean.
Farmed sea bass:
Common sea bass is produced in fish farms (in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy, France, and Croatia), more or less intensively. The fish are calibrated and weigh 350–500 g. Their flesh is less fine and a little fattier.
There are organic farms. A Red Label identifies fish farmed in good conditions in the sea, without overstocking, and fed on fish.
Wherever it comes from, a sea bass should be fresh; in other words, it should fulfill all the freshness criteria: bright eyes, shiny scales, red gills, a smell of the sea.
Sea bass are sold whole and cleaned, fresh or frozen, and in fillets, either individually packed or not, and fresh, vacuum packed, or frozen.
Fresh whole fish, cleaned on board the boats, are immediately packed in polystyrene boxes and covered with ice so as to ensure a temperature of 0–2ºC until delivery.
A whole, fresh, or frozen sea bass should be scaled (unless it is cooked in a salt crust), then rinsed and dried.
It can be baked, with aromatics, or else poached or braised. A 1 kg sea bass is required for 4 people. Small farmed sea bass are suitable for steaming or cooked en papillote.
Fillets can be pan fried. Fillets are taken from a 3–4 kg fish so as to make thick and rounded steaks and to ensure cooking that is as even as possible.
When filleting, it is important to remove all the red and bloody parts from between the skin and the flesh, which are generally “ferrous” and oxidize when cooked.
Fillets can also be prepared raw, as carpaccio, or tartar. Sea bass is made into sushi in Japan.
Whole fresh sea bass should be stored in a cool room or refrigerator for several hours at most after delivery, in the ice from their box.
Vacuum-packed fillets bear a use-by date.
Frozen whole sea bass or fillets can be stored in the freezer after delivery until their use.
Sea bass is classified as a semi-fatty fish, but it contains less than 5% fat.
Most of this is made up of unsaturated fatty acids, high in Omega 3, and beneficial for all cells, particularly those of the nervous system.
Rich in protein, it is also high in minerals, especially iron, and in B group vitamins.
Common or European sea bass
The common sea bass has a tapered body covered in large, very fine and dense, silvery scales. Its back is gray-black, its sides are a silvery yellow, and its belly is white. There is a row of sharp spines camouflaged in its dorsal fin. It has a long head and a large mouth, two separate dorsal fins, and opercula that protect its gills.
It averages 35–80 cm in length.
The common sea bass spawns in spring in the Atlantic and in winter in the Mediterranean.
Spotted sea bass
This variety is smaller, growing to a maximum of 60 cm. It has larger eyes and tail, and its body is a little less rounded.
Its name comes from the black spots or speckling over its back and sides, which are what differentiates it from the common sea bass. However, common sea bass also have black spots when they are young, although they disappear a little later. Spotted sea bass live in the Atlantic off the south of Morocco, and in the Mediterranean.
This variety is distinguished by 7 or 8 dark stripes on its sides. It is born in fresh water, but lives along the east coast of North America, from the Saint Lawrence estuary as far as Florida.
This variety is closely related to the striped bass, but has no stripes on its sides. It is a freshwater fish, living in North American waterways, including the Great Lakes.
Japanese sea bass
This variety is 50–70 cm long. It is closely related to the common sea bass.