This Michelin-Starred Chicago Chef Has a Sea Bass Recipe for You to Try at Home
Plus, an invitation to get aggressive with the beer pairing
When Michelin-star-spangled chef Jared Wentworth joined the team at Moody Tongue Brewery in 2019 alongside his long-time friend, brewmaster Jared Rouben, it was evident that this wouldn’t be an ordinary brewpub. Boasting a creative, gastronomic line of beers ranging from nectarine IPA to caramelized chocolate churro porter, the brewery was the perfect place to spotlight a fine dining tasting menu that offered a bit of a departure from the norm.
“We showcase a variety of beer styles,” says Wentworth, “from traditional lagers and ales to beers showcasing indulgent ingredients like truffles to beers aged in whiskey and wine barrels, which allows us to share creative pairings.”
Indeed, creativity seems like the name of the game here. In the 28-seat dining room, the pair of Jareds marry their beer offerings with a hyper-seasonal 10-course tasting menu seasoned liberally with international flavors. Dishes on any given night may include beet falafel with fermented tahini and shiso or popcorn grits with rutabaga and preserved lemon. In the bar, meanwhile, an à la carte menu features a no-less-impressive array, ranging from smoked beet tartare with whipped pine-infused ricotta to Hudson Valley foie gras with a chai olive oil cake to a Chinese-inspired black bass that’s dredged, fried and served whole with a house-made chili crunch for a show-stopping final presentation.
The recipe hails not only from Wentworth’s love of Chinese cuisine, but also for its particular affinity for beer.
“Chinese cuisine is complex and pairs exceptionally well with beer,” he says. “The carbonation in lighter lagers helps refresh and cool your palate between flavorful and often spicy bites.”
Best of all? This impressive dish is deceptively easy to make at home.
First step: source your fish. Wentworth calls for black bass, a sustainable choice according to NOAA Fisheries, which is local to the entire Eastern Seaboard but is particularly plentiful in the Mid-Atlantic. Black bass boasts a fresh, light taste and a delicate yet firm texture that can stand up to a variety of flavors, including the garlic, lemongrass and ginger Wentworth uses in his recipe. And according to Seafood Source, black bass is particularly well-suited to being prepared and served whole, due to the relatively simple bone structure that would otherwise make plating a real pain. Just get your fishmonger to clean it for you, and you’ll be halfway to dinner.
Indeed, with your black bass sourced and scaled, this dish isn’t complicated to make. It does, however, require a bit of advance planning: Notably, the bass should be dredged in rice flour for a full hour before its trip through the fryer. This, Wentworth says, helps the flour better adhere to the fish and leads to a crispier final result.
In the meantime, you can make the chili crunch, a flavorful blend of garlic, peanuts, shallots and chili flakes fried and then stirred into fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Any leftovers, Wentworth says, will keep for up to a week and are delicious with “almost everything! Eggs, chicken, etc. — just keep it out of your drink.”
To accompany the fish, Wentworth recommends stocking up on Moody Tongue’s toasted rice lager, which he says Rouben originally crafted with Chinese food in mind.
“It’s light and effervescent, which works well with flavorful Chinese food and particularly spicier dishes,” he says.
A better pair would be hard to find!
Whole Crispy Fish
For the fish
- 1 whole 2-3-pound black bass
- 1 gallon canola oil
- 2 cups rice flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Frying oil
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup roasted shelled peanuts, chopped
- 3 large shallots
- 2 tablespoons red chili flakes
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 baby bok choy
- 10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 10 cloves black garlic
- 1 medium carrot, julienned
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced lemongrass
- Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Diamond score the cleaned, scaled bass. Season heavily with salt and pepper, and dredge in rice flour. Reserve for an hour at room temperature. After an hour, redredge the fish in rice flour, and fry in a tabletop deep fryer or large Dutch oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Remove and season once again. Drain on paper towels.
While the fish is resting (or up to a week ahead), make the chili crunch. Working in batches, fry the garlic, shallot, chili and peanuts in vegetable oil over low heat, until lightly browned. Once fried, drain and combine with the olive oil.
For the vegetables, in a very hot pan, heat a film of oil. Add the bok choy and sear until wilted. Add the mushrooms and remaining ingredients and sauté until tender.
To finish, lay a bed of vegetables on a platter, top with the fried fish and pour the chili crunch over the top. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve.
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