Here, on the Mediterranean coast, sea bass is known as “loup” or “wolf,” a name earned by its voracious character. In the rest of France, it is called “bar.”  We find plenty of fresh fish at the markets, sometimes still sold by the fishermen themselves… or their wives, though much of the market is now controlled by the supermarkets. The freshest fish is usually whole. We have them cleaned out and scaled by the fishmonger. Then we tote them home, chatting about how we might attempt to cook them.

Cooking whole fish is intimidating. We have discovered that it is in fact simpler than cooking most things. One stress-free way is simply baking in a Pyrex dish with a few herbs, shallots or onions, and a dash or two of white wine. You don’t have to worry too much about overcooking if you set the timer.

Baking fish is simple, but making a mousseline sauce is a bit tricky unless you already know how to make a hollandaise sauce. If a hollandaise sauce is already in your repertoire, a mousseline sauce is a piece of cake. It is a light and airy alternative. On top of it, you can save it in the fridge if you prefer not to serve right away.

If you do not make the sauce ahead of time, you have plenty of time while the fish is baking.

recipe for baked sea bass

  • 1 large or two small sea bass, cleaned and scaled
  • fresh or dried herbs such as thyme and bay leaf
  • 1 onion or 4-6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • a few tablespoons of white wine
  • a sprinkle of salt
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make 3 diagonal slashes on each side of the fish.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high. Sprinkle the fish with flour and cook for about 1 minute on each side, until the skin crisps and browns.

Place the onions or shallots in a baking dish, add the fish, herbs, wine, and salt. Drizzle with the oil left in the frying pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Turn. Then bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the flesh is opaque throughout.

Ready to serve!

recipe for bergamot mousseline sauce

I used very small portions because I didn’t have enough butter, and we were only two. If you want to make more, you can easily double the recipe. Note: I used far less butter than many recipes call for and it turned out quite well.

If you already have a super recipe for hollandaise sauce, just skip to the step where you add whipped cream.

  • about 80 to 100 grams butter (3 – 3.5 oz)
  • half an egg yolk
  • about 2 or 3 tbs bergamot juice (or lemon juice if you have no bergamot)
  • about a 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

bergamot juice

Prepare the ingredients first.

Press the bergamot for juice. I used just 2 tbs, but a little more juice might not hurt. Notice that the bergamot in the photo had already been zested for another recipe.

Separate the yolk of a fresh egg. Notice in the photo that the yolk is very plump and round. This is a sign that it is very fresh.

clairified butter

Clarify the butter. This means to put the butter over very low heat so that it melts but does not boil. You will notice the milk solids fall mostly to the bottom. For the recipe, you want only the butter fat, not the white milk solids. Any floating solids can be skimmed off. Clarified butter is also called ghee.

Don’t skip this step, or your sauce will have a bitter buttermilk flavor.

partially whipped cream

Next, also using a very small bowl, whip the heavy cream until thick and frothy, just before the soft peak stage. In my photo, this is a small bowl with a mini whisk. Store in the fridge.

Here is the tricky part, where all of this fat and acid become a delicious sauce. There is a fine line between an omelette and a thick sauce, especially with such tiny quantities. Be careful!

Set a bowl next to your stove and a spatula next to it. You will need these on hand as soon as the sauce thickens.

In the smallest sauce pan that you own, on the lowest heat that your stove can possibly give you, heat the half an egg yolk with the bergamot juice, whisking constantly. (Use a double boiler if you want to be even more careful.) If you have doubled the quantities, it’s actually easier to do. Here is where you want to have plan A and plan B.

Plan A: All is going well, no signs of an omelette

As soon as the egg and bergamot juice are well mixed and mousse-like, begin to add the clarified butter about 1 tbs at a time, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and pour into the bowl that you prepared ahead of time. Your sauce will be thick and creamy, the perfect hollandaise.

Plan B: Egad! You think you saw a little part that is turning into an omelette! (Or you just want to be safe).

As soon as the mixture thickens, pour it quickly into the bowl and continue whisking for about 30 seconds while the sauce cools. Add the clarified butter little by little, whisking well after each addition. Your sauce might just look like melted butter, and not even close to a creamy hollandaise, but don’t fret. Be happy that you are making a mousseline sauce and not a hollandaise sauce. This is what happened to me.

Whether you followed plan A or plan B, the next step is the same. Season your hollandaise or semi-hollandaise sauce with salt and pepper. Take your slightly whipped cream out of the fridge and add in a slow stream to the sauce, whipping as you pour. Voilà! It should become light and airy, and look like the creamy, pale yellow peak in the photo below.

Serve it dalloped, piped, or however you would like. If you refrigerate, it will harden like a whipped butter, but even more airy in texture. So if you decide to refrigerate, do it in single portions.

bergamot mousselineEnjoy! (And hope that someone else will do the dishes!)


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