River Cottage's Steam-Braised Sea Bass with Thyme and Lemon

sea bass with thyme and lemon
Steam-Braised Sea Bass Simon Wheeler

Steamed fish doesn't exactly have the best reputation outside of health-centric restaurants, but in the hands of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher, gently cooked fillets are anything but dry and boring. Dubbed "steam-braising" in The River Cottage Fish Book, their method consists of using a rich (read: butter and olive oil) sauce full of herbs, wine, and garlic to gently steam (and braise, I suppose) small medallions of sea bass (or most other white, flaky fish). What emerges from the pan is tender with a subtle brininess imparted in the sauce.

Why I picked this recipe: The term "steam-braising" is a new one, but any recipe that promises tender fish and rich sauce with less effort than sauteing an onion sounds good to me.

What worked: With a careful eye on the fish medallions, I was able to turn out fragrant, moist morsels of fish in 10 minutes flat.

What didn't: Nothing—this was fabulous as written.

Suggested tweaks: This cooking method will work with all most white fish and flat fish, and the sauce is highly adaptable. Just keep in mind the basic principle of a thin layer of flavorful cooking liquid and adapt away. I'm thinking tomato broth, white wine, olive oil, and capers for my next batch.

Reprinted with permission from The River Cottage Fish Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher. Copyright 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.

Recipe Facts

Active: 20 mins
Total: 20 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon white wine

  • A squeeze of lemon juice

  • 2 strips finely pared lemon zest

  • 2 sprigs thyme

  • 2 or 3 bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)

  • 1 small garlic clove, finely sliced (optional)

  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 pounds black sea bass, pollock, or cod fillet, cut into 3/4- to 1 1/4-inch thick medallions

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put olive oil, butter, and white wine in a large, wide saucepan or a deep frying pan along with a tablespoon of water, lemon juice, zest, thyme, and bay – and the fennel seeds and garlic, if you’re using them. Bring to a simmer. Season fish medallions lightly with salt and pepper, then arrange them in the pan in a single layer.

  2. Cover and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, turning them once, very carefully, so they don’t break up. That’s it. All you need do now is transfer fish to warmed plates and spoon over the juices. Boiled spuds or mashed potatoes and something fresh and green – broccoli, perhaps, or spring greens – are the only accompaniments you need.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
178 Calories
7g Fat
1g Carbs
26g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 178
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 2g 12%
Cholesterol 88mg 29%
Sodium 808mg 35%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 26g
Vitamin C 2mg 8%
Calcium 20mg 2%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 414mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)