With its flaky texture and rich, buttery flavour, Chilean sea bass is one of the most prized varieties of sea bass, commanding top prices at fine-dining restaurants around the world.
So what is it that sets Chilean sea bass apart from other sea bass? In fact, the biggest difference is that Chilean sea bass isn’t bass at all. ‘Sea bass’ is a generic term, used to describe many different species of marine fish, some of which are bass, but many of which are not.
The true name of the Chilean sea bass is the rather less appealing ‘Patagonian toothfish’, and it is found in the waters around South America and the Antarctic. It weighs around 15–22 lb on average, with the very largest adults reaching an impressive 220 lb.
The name ‘Chilean sea bass’ was invented in 1977 by enterprising fish wholesaler Lee Lantz, who guessed that diners would find the prospect of a fillet of sea bass more appetising than a fillet of toothfish. Lanz’s hunch proved correct, and once people were persuaded to try it, it’s rich taste and versatility soon made it a firm favourite.
Why is Chilean sea bass so famous?
Chilean sea bass is famed for its rich, buttery flavour, which has been compared to cod, and its tender, flaky texture. It is also a highly versatile fish, and pairs beautifully with many different spice combinations and sauces.
The fame and popularity of the Chilean sea bass received a huge boost in 1993, when it was depicted in the hit movie Jurassic Park, served to the main characters as an opulent example of the ‘spared no expense’ mantra of the park’s owners. In fact, the fish became so popular that it was fished to near extinction in the years that followed, leading to the ‘Take a pass on Chilean Sea Bass’ campaign, where chefs and diners abstained from their favourite fish to allow stocks to replenish.
These days, thanks to more sustainable fishing practices, Chilean sea bass is back on the menu. It is still classed as vulnerable, however, so don’t expect to see it in your local store any time soon.
Why is Chilean sea bass so expensive?
Chilean sea bass is highly sought-after thanks to its flavour and versatility. Due to overfishing in the 90s, however, it is still quite rare, and fishing must continue to be carefully controlled to prevent the Chilean sea bass from disappearing from oceans and menus for good. This means that Chilean sea bass can command a very high price, and you are only likely to find it in very expensive restaurants. If you want to try something similar, but you can’t stretch to Chilean sea bass, black cod is a great alternative that won’t break the bank.
Nutrition and benefits
Like all fish, Chilean sea bass is a great source of protein, and vitamin D, both of which are important for maintaining healthy bones and muscles. It is also an excellent source of the fatty acid omega-3, which is particularly known for its heart-protecting properties, and may be able to help lower high blood pressure, increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and reduce plaque build-up in the arteries. Among other things, it is also thought to be beneficial to eye and bone health.
There are also health concerns regarding the consumption of Chilean sea bass, however, due to high mercury levels. The Environmental Defence Fund recommends that adults eat no more than two portions per month, and children of 12 years or younger should eat no more than one portion a month.