What is Chilean Sea Bass?

Nutrition Facts – Chilean Sea Bass 8oz:
Protein: 32g
Fat: 20g
Carb: 5g
Iron: 1.4 mg

One of our most popular selling fish is the Chilean Sea Bass, an exotic sounding fish who’s meat is an enigmatic shade of white. I am always answering the question “what is that WHITE fish next to the salmon….?” and I realized that there are only a few customers who know what Chilean Sea Bass actually is.

The first and most important thing to know about Chilean Sea Bass is that even the name is not true. That name is the brainchild of American marketing genius and wholesale fishmonger Lee Lantz. Chilean Sea Bass is not (typically) from Chile, and it is not Bass. The real name given to these fish is the Patagonian Toothfish; one member of a family of fish that include the Antarctic Toothfish, the Antarctic Silverfish, the Longfin Ice Devil and many more. They are more closely related to a Cod, Haddock, or Sablefish than they are a bass. Although you can find Patagonian Toothfish off of the continental shores of Chile, and Argentina, you will find these species of fish predominantly in the southern Oceans above the Antarctic ocean circumnavigating the globe. One of the most popular countries to launch a Toothfish vessel is from the ports in South Africa.

Toothfish are a very ancient species of fish whose ancestors probably started to evolve into the forms we know them today as far back as the Eocene Era, roughly 50 Million years ago. This was a period of temperature stabilization in the worlds oceans which led to diversity, and evolution for marine life. These species of fish are extremely deep water fish, with most mature fish living in depth of over 3,000 feet. Because visible solar light can not penetrate to depths over 1000 meters, photosynthesis, and in turn most pigmentation is hard to come by. Probably why the Chilean Sea Bass meat is so pearly white.

As with most fish that comes from depths of over 1,000 feet, Mercury levels are significantly higher for fish taken from these depths. Mercury is found in higher levels at deeper depths in the ocean due to mercury’s need for oxygen depleted environments to stay chemically relevant. (Morel F, Kraepiel A, Amyot M. The chemical cycle and bioaccumulation of mercury. Annu Rev Ecol Syst. 1998;29:543–566) Due to this fish being caught in depths of over 1,000 meters, it is recommended that you eat this fish every once and a while, as there are plenty of other fish with lower levels of mercury, who are more sustainable, and fresher.

Toothfish is on Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List as a ‘good choice’ as far as sustainability is concerned. What this means is that they identify it as being a fishery which is maintaining a good level of reproduction, and the governmental bodies in charge of overseeing the quotas, licensure, and marketing of the product are happy with where population and numbers of fish have been. One of the ways to ensure you are getting sustainably and ethically caught fish is by purchasing products from the MSC or Marine Stewardship Council. South Africa, as I mentioned before, was at the forefront of this great change in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, and forced more sustainable fishing practices on other countries. They are one of the prime suppliers of toothfish globally.

Because Chilean Sea Bass is caught on massive ships, hundreds of miles off of the tips of the southern most continents, so 99.9 percent of the fish is processed and frozen right aboard the ships they are caught on. They are usually longlined ( a controversial style of fishing where thousands of feet of weighted lines are baited and dropped to the ocean floor) and hauled a few days later. They are then processed within 30 minutes of being caught. They are caught, cleaned, and blast frozen in onboard freezer units. After they have been frozen they are usually packed for sale, and piled high in the ships below deck storage. Because the fish is frozen aboard the ships they are caught on, any “fresh” Chilean Sea Bass you see for sale has been thawed for your consumer convenience. Due to the conditions, the travel, and the equipment used to catch these fish, combined with the depleting populations, Chilean Sea Bass fetches higher than usual prices, upwards of $35 a pound!

Patagonian Toothfish is succulent and fatty, and is reminiscent of a Cod who’s meat is slightly more dense. The bright white glow of a freshly thawed Patagonian Toothfish filet is something to behold, and it is the subject of many questions from customers and their family members alike. The meat is slightly sweet, but fatty and buttery as is typical of deep ocean fish. You can cook Sea Bass however you choose, but it lends very well to grilling, and broiling because of its durability. Because of its fat content, it is hard to dry out, and overcook.

Like with any good thing, too much of it is not a good thing for both your health and the health of our oceans and the population of the fish. Think twice before buying Chilean Sea Bass for every fish meal, and ask your fish monger to recommend some alternatives.

Published by Filet To Table

Answering all of your most curious questions about seafood fare, and giving you a new confidence or curiosity about culinary flavors from our ocean.

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