eat. shop. love. nyc.

Le Bernardin-style crispy black bass recipe
January 18, 2011, 11:33 am
Filed under: Cook | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have the excellent fortune of being friends with a cook at Chef Eric Ripert‘s three Michelin star and New York Times four star seafood restaurant Le Bernardin, and after some prolonged begging, he finally acquiesced and cooked for me on his day off.

He told me he was going to make “something simple.” Happily, it turns out that we have very different ideas of what constitutes “simple.” He decided that a crispy black bass dish with a port wine, sherry vinegar, and butter sauce served over blanched chanterelle and black trumpet mushrooms with a side of thyme and garlic roasted potatoes was “simple.” At Le Bernardin, they used to serve a similar dish – the Crispy Chinese Spiced Black Bass with Porcini Mushrooms and Port Wine Reduction, which original recipe is listed on the Avec Eric website linked above (from episode 13). Side note: my friend says his favorite time to eat at Le Bernardin is during the winter when the locally-sourced fish have all fattened up to endure the colder weather, so you should get over there now. He walked me through his own version of the black bass recipe step by step, explaining why he was doing what he was doing at each step, so I could eventually cook it on my own. I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. It was super fun to watch him cook and even more fun to eat it afterwards. Thanks, friend!

Crispy black bass with mushrooms and port wine sauce (serves 2)


  • 2 skin-on black bass fillets
  • 1 cup chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 cup black trumpet mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons neutral cooking oil like grapeseed or canola – we used soybean oil because that’s what I had on hand
  • 2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour – this is a low-protein, pregelatinized wheat flour formulated to dissolve quickly and is especially fine and designed not to clump
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Boil a small pot of lightly salted water in which to blanch the mushrooms.

    As the water comes to a boil, wash the mushrooms to get rid of any dirt or pine needles or other undelicious little bits of nature that might have been left behind on the fungi. Blanch the mushrooms quickly until just cooked through – this removes dirt, kills germs, and brings out flavor. Remove mushrooms and pat dry, setting aside on a plate lined with paper towels to dry.
  2. Take the fish fillets out and remove about one inch off the narrow tail end and discard – this part usually has bones. Then wash the fillets and pat dry with a paper towel, and with a paring knife, scrape the skin side to get rid of any leftover scales and excess moisture.

    You can’t get a crispy skin on the fish if there’s too much moisture, so this is a nice little trick. You can wipe the paring knife on the paper towel after each scrape kinda like you’d wipe off the squeegee you used to clean your car’s windshield at a gas station before each new swipe.
  3. Salt both sides of the fillet lightly, and put some white pepper on the flesh side only. White pepper tends to burn if cooked too long, so you should only put it on the side that is barely going to be cooked. Set the fillets on a cutting board to come to room temperature.
  4. Take the sherry vinegar and boil it down until it is reduced by half, then add the port wine and boil it down until the sauce is syrupy, roughly yielding 1/4 of a cup. Careful that the sauce doesn’t burn as the liquid boils down – you’ll need to turn down the heat as the syrup reduces. The vinegar will add tartness and acidity and the port wine will add some sweetness and mellowness of flavor. Once fully reduced, add the butter and swirl vigorously until glossy and melted (don’t whisk or sauce will become could) and reduce heat to low. The fat in the butter balances out the acidity in the reduction.
  5. Heat a skillet over high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook dry over high heat – if you have some thyme on hand (which we did from the roasted potatoes we made on the side), you may add a couple leaves here. Turn off the heat and divide mushrooms onto two serving plates.
  6. To cook the fish, heat the neutral cooking oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking, about 2-3 minutes. Because my skillets aren’t very large, my friend used two skillets side by side so as not to crowd the fish in a single pan for two reasons: (1) since the heat is strongest at the center, it’s best to cook the fish as close to the center of the skillet as possible for even heat distribution, and (2) the fillets release steam as they cook, and the moisture from the steam prevents the fillets from getting truly crispy.
  7. As the oil heats, take the Wondra flour and sprinkle one side of a fillet over the sink, then blow off the excess flour into the sink so that only a very light dusting of the flour remains. Repeat on the other side of the fillet so both the skin and the flesh sides are floured lightly.
  8. Once the oil is hot, lay the fish fillets at the center of each skillet skin side down and turn the heat down to medium. Press the top of the fillets down with a spatula gently so they don’t curl up. You’ll cook most of the fish on this side, shaking the pan to prevent sticking and ensure even distribution of the oil, maybe 4-6 minutes. You can check the skin side from time to time to make sure the skin is getting a nice brown color, but not burning. To check, do not flip the fish over in the pan; flip the fish over into a towel in your hand, and return immediately to the pan skin side down until you achieve the desired golden brown crisp.
  9. Flip the fillets once and finish cooking, about 30 seconds or so. If you’re afraid the fish isn’t fully cooked, don’t worry as the heat will carry through and continue to cook the fish even after you have plated it.

    Check out that lovely brown crust – it’s not thick because the dusting of the Wondra flour was so light.
  10. On each of the serving plates with the mushrooms, lay a fillet down with the skin side up.

    Drizzle some of the port sauce around the plate. Serve immediately for maximum crispiness. Try not to moan with ecstasy too loudly.

Bon appetit!


1 Comment so far
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I’m a Swede who visited Le Bernardin a while back, and I’m a fan of their food.

I was looking for the black bass recipe (with celery and green pepper corn sauce) but found this instead. The recipe sounds great and it feels good to know that they cook fish kind of the way that I would cook it (yeah, so they really have to be good at cooking fish, haha).

The reduction seems easy and clever, so I must try that (maybe I will vary it with fruit juices as well, who knows).

By the way: the whole point in making these kind of dishes at home is that you can moan or make any noices you want while enjoying them!

Comment by David

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