Steamed Sea Bass with Tamarind Sauce
© John Kernick

Steamed Sea Bass with Tamarind Sauce



  1. One 2 1/2-inch block of tamarind pulp (5 ounces)
  2. 3 1/4 cups water
  3. 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  4. 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  5. 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  6. 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  7. 3 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
  8. 2 teaspoons harissa
  9. 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  10. 3 pounds nonoily white fish bones, rinsed and cut into large pieces
  11. 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  12. 1 garlic clove, crushed
  13. 24 pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  14. Four 6-ounce sea bass fillets
  15. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  16. 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  17. 2 tablespoons finely shredded mint leaves
  1. In a small saucepan, cover the tamarind pulp with 1 1/4 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Remove the sauce-pan from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the tamarind pulp is softened and broken down, about 15 minutes. Pass the tamarind through a fine sieve, pressing hard to extract as much pulp as possible. Discard the fibers and seeds in the sieve.
  2. In a small skillet, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer the spices to a plate to cool, then grind them finely in a spice grinder. In a blender, combine the ground spices with the coconut milk, peanuts, ginger, harissa and all but 1 tablespoon of the tamarind puree and blend to make a smooth, aromatic puree.
  3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the fish bones and cook over moderate heat until the fish on the bones is opaque, about 10 minutes. Add the scallions and garlic and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the aromatic puree (see Note). Add the remaining 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the stock into a small saucepan and boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Cover the stock and keep warm.
  4. In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, simmer the pearl onions over moderate heat until they are tender, about 6 minutes. Drain the pearl onions and return them to the saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon of butter, shake the pan to coat the onions and keep them warm.
  5. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and set them, skin side up, on a heatproof plate that fits snugly in a large, deep skillet. Put 3 balls of crumpled foil in the skillet, add 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Carefully set the plate on the foil balls, cover the skillet and steam the fish over high heat until the flesh flakes easily, about 8 minutes.
  6. In a blender, combine the stock with the lime juice, the reserved 1 tablespoon of tamarind puree and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and blend until frothy. Season with salt and pepper and blend again. Set the fillets in soup plates and pour the tamarind sauce around them. Stir the mint into the pearl onions, arrange them around the fish and serve.
Make Ahead
The recipe can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated for 2 days.
The remaining aromatic puree can be refrigerated for 1 week and used to marinate seafood or chicken.

Suggested Pairing

An inexpensive bright white with good acidity and a hint of sweetness perfectly complements the sweet, sour and spicy tamarind broth. An off-dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc from Washington State would be a good choice.