• Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy

This dish has a gorgeous contrast in flavours and textures, yet is incredibly simple to prepare. Baking whole fish always looks impressive, so serve your guests one of these whole aromatic fish in its sweet, creamy sauce, and prepare to be a dinner party hero.

For my twenty-first birthday, many moons ago, I went out to an Italian restaurant with some friends. I ate baked peppers smothered in goat’s cheese, followed by a huge pizza, followed by cake and ice cream, all washed down with liberal amounts of wine. The next day I found myself in the kitchen (clad in my dressing gown and in no mood to face the world) vigorously preparing a stir-fry that featured more chilli than I’’d ever dared to put in my mouth before.

What is it about chilli that somehow seems to rectify all gastronomic over-indulgence? Its acerbic heat seems to blast through all that cheese/cake/chocolate/[insert personal food vice here] that feels like it’’s weighing you down, livening up the tastebuds and making you feel healthier at the same time. Combine this with the punch of fresh ginger and the tang of a just-squeezed lime, and it’’s no wonder so many people (including myself) crave south east Asian food after a period of heavy eating.

Yet this type of food can still taste deliciously luxurious, a firm contender for a dinner party in its exotic excitement but still healthy enough to feel virtuous: all that rousing ginger, lime and chilli and vibrant masses of fresh herbs can’’t help but make you feel like you’’re nourishing your body in the tastiest way possible. Add a little thick, creamy coconut milk and a dash of caramel-scented brown sugar, and you have the cornerstone of a truly fabulous ‘treat’ dish that will please even the most jaded dieter.

Here, sea bass are baked in a gorgeous mixture of coconut, brown sugar and aromatics (garlic, chilli and ginger), perfumed with star anise and finished with the delicious tang of fresh basil and a squeeze of lime. It’’s based on a recipe from my favourite Vietnamese cookbook, tweaked a little to make it sweeter and more aromatic, a perfect contrast to the moist, juicy flesh of sea bass. The coconut milk makes the most incredible sauce, sweet and creamy yet spicy and zingy at the same time. Spooned over rice, it is indulgent but light, healthy and fabulously tasty.

Finished off with a sprinkling of toasted cashews, this dish has a gorgeous contrast in flavours and textures, yet is incredibly simple to prepare. Baking whole fish always looks impressive, so serve your guests one of these whole aromatic fish in its sweet, creamy sauce, and prepare to be a January dinner party hero.


here's what you need...

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 large red chilli, deseeded
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 300ml coconut milk (full-fat is best)
  • 3 tsp brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 sea bass, gutted and scaled
  • 4 star anise, broken into pieces
  • A large bunch of fresh basil
  • 60g cashew nuts
  • 2 limes

sea bass ingredients


serve with

A deliciously tangy and fresh Asian-style cucumber relish. Slice a cucumber (or three baby Asian cucumbers) in half lengthways then cut into thin little half-moon slices. Scatter on a plate and sprinkle over 2 tsp salt. Leave for half an hour, then rinse the cucumber and drain well on kitchen towel (this firms up the texture by removing some of the water, and seasons it beautifully). Mix 100ml rice wine vinegar with 2 tbsp golden caster sugar, the juice of half a lime and ½ tsp salt, then put in a bowl with the cucumber, two thinly sliced shallots, one thinly sliced green chilli, and 4 tbsp each chopped fresh mint and coriander. Toss well and leave for half an hour before serving for the flavours to mingle.

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set oven temp: 200C/gas mark 6

here's how it's done...

  • 1

    In a small food processor, blitz together the garlic, ginger and chilli, or chop finely by hand.

    sea bass step 1

  • 2

    Heat the oil in a small frying pan or saucepan and add this paste, stirring frequently. Cook for a couple of minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and add the sugar and salt, then heat gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat.

    sea bass step 2

  • 3

    Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan). Make several slashes in the skin of the sea bass on one side, then season with salt and pepper. Put pieces of star anise in the slashed skin.

    sea bass step 3

  • 4

    Tear off four pieces of kitchen foil about 4 inches longer than each sea bass lengthways. Put the fish on top of the foil, then gather up the edges of the foil at the head and tail end to make a boat shape. Scatter half the basil over the fish, then divide the coconut mixture between the four parcels.

    sea bass step 4

    Wrap the foil up so it is almost totally covering the fish, but leave a little gap (you don’t want to seal the parcel completely). Bake for 25 minutes or until the fish is firm and opaque.

  • 5

    Meanwhile, toast the cashew nuts in a hot, dry pan, then blitz to fine crumbs in a food processor.

    sea bass step 5

  • 6

    When the fish is cooked, squeeze a little lime juice over each parcel. Serve the fish on top of a bed of steamed rice with the coconut sauce poured over. Garnish with the remaining basil, sprinkle over the cashew nuts, and serve with lime wedges to squeeze over.

    sea bass post image 3



By Elly McCausland on 27.01.14

Guest Contributor

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