Largemouth bass is cherished both as a game fish for anglers, and as a meal by fish lovers. Its flesh is lean and delicately flavored, making it suitable for most recipes calling for white-fleshed fish. Baking a bass is one of the simplest preparation methods, calling for a minimum of hands-on attention from the cook. How long you bake your bass depends whether it's whole, or in smaller portions.
For cooking purposes, most fish are considered either lean or fatty. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring, are richly flavored because of their high levels of natural oils. They're well suited to hot and dry cooking methods because their fat keeps them moist. Lean fish, such as bass and cod, have a more delicate flavor. They're good poached or steamed, two cooking methods that don't dry out their flesh. You can also bake or fry them, but they'll dry out quickly if you overcook them or don't protect them from the heat.
One way to protect your bass from the oven's heat is to bake it whole with the skin and bones still in place, as they help keep the interior of the bass moist, especially if you dot the cavity with butter or line it with slices of lemon. If you like a crisp skin, you can oil the surface of the bass, or rub it with spices for added flavor. Bake whole fish at 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes per pound, until it's no longer translucent in the middle. Remove the cooked fillets from the baked bass by sliding a fork or fish server along the backbone, and lifting the fillet away from the skeleton.
You can also bake bass fillets with the skin on and facing up, but typically, fillets are skinless. Bake thick fillets at 375 degrees F and thin fillets at 400 degrees F for eight to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Skinless fillets need some help to minimize dryness. Brushing or spraying them with oil usually helps, or dotting them with butter. If you like your bass breaded, toast the crumbs ahead of time. Bass fillets are usually done in 10 minutes or less, which isn't really long enough to brown the crumbs properly.
Baked in Sauce
Another way to keep the fillets moist, and add a little flavor as well, is to bake them in a sauce or other liquid. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a small amount of tomato sauce or cream sauce, or simply with milk or white wine. Arrange the fillets in a single layer, season them, and cover them with more sauce. If you're working with a hot sauce, your baking time will be the same eight to 10 minutes per inch. If you're working with cold sauce or cooking liquids, you might need to add another five to eight minutes.
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky, et al.
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