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Home » Cuisines » American » Pan Seared Sea Bass Recipe with Thyme Butter

Pan Seared Sea Bass Recipe with Thyme Butter

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With only five ingredients, this pan seared Chilean sea bass recipe may look simple, but it has a deep, rich flavor that is worthy of fine dining. The sea bass is topped with a fresh thyme compound butter that seeps into every crevice of the fish for a luxurious taste. 

This sea bass recipe takes less than 15 minutes to cook and is perfect for busy weeknights or lazy weekends. It is a meal that is much less effortless than our Chilean sea bass with beurre blanc but equally worthy of chef status.

Overhead view of a butterr-thyme basted sea bass filet, roasted fingerling potatoes and grape tomatoes

Pan searing is an excellent method to prepare Chilean sea bass as it lets the flavors of the fish shine. The snow-white flesh has a smooth, buttery texture that highlights the subtle sweetness and mild flavor Chilean sea bass is known for.  And if you love this recipe I’m sure you will enjoy our pan fried cod or broiled cod recipes.

Pan Seared Sea Bass:

Don’t let the simplicity of this recipe fool you, it is a fantastic way to prepare fish and it lets the flavor of the sea bass stand out.

When you sear the sea bass in a hot skillet, a chemical process called the Maillard reaction occurs and the bass develops additional layers of flavor and complexity. 

Pan searing is an easy cooking method that is perfect for delicate fish like sea bass. But unless you know how to do it correctly, your efforts can fall flat. We have some tips to help you make this the best sea bass recipe you can make. 

Recipe Ingredients

I mentioned that this Chilean sea bass recipe only uses five ingredients. It’s a super quick dinner and you can use this same technique on other fish like pan seared salmon, a wolffish recipe, or sablefish. The list of fish is endless. Here are the ingredients you will need.

  • Chilean sea bass. You can use fresh or frozen sea bass. If you use frozen fish then make sure you let it thaw completely before you begin the recipe.
  • Thyme. We used fresh thyme but you can change up the flavor by substituting any fresh herb you have on hand. Some great ideas are rosemary, sage, dill, chive, and tarragon.
  • Butter. You can use salted or unsalted butter. Whichever one you have on hand.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Lemon. You will use the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Make sure you zest the lemon before you squeeze the juice. It is much harder to remove the lemon zest after you squeeze the lemon.
  • Garlic. Fresh garlic will add more flavor than dried garlic but you can use garlic powder in a pinch.
Ingredients needed for a Chilean sea bass recipe.

How to Prepare our Chilean Bass Recipe:

Here’s the simplified version of the recipe. You will see how easy it is with just five simple steps.

Please scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of the post so you get all the details.

Compound Butter Recipe

  1. Place the butter, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic in a small dish and mash with a fork. Set the butter aside while you sear the sea bass.

For the Fish

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Season the sea bass with salt and black pepper. 
  2. Add the fish fillets to the hot skillet, flesh side down. Cook until golden brown.
  3. Flip the fish and cook skin-side down.  Add a knob of the butter mixture to the top of each filet.  Continue cooking for 2 additional minutes while spooning the melting butter over the top.  
  4. Check for doneness. It should flake easily and be opaque in color (not translucent).

Tips for the Best Recipe

Here are some helpful tips to get the best results from this recipe. 

  • We prefer our cast iron skillet because it is heavy and distributes heat evenly. A stainless steel or non-stick skillet also works but heavy pans work the best.
  • Make sure you blot the fish dry before you season and cook them. If the fish have moisture on the surface of them then they will steam instead of sear and you won’t get a golden crust.
  • If the sea bass fillets stick to the pan when you try to flip them, let them cook a bit longer until they release easily.
  • To check for doneness, insert a fork into the thickest part of the fillet and give the fork a twist. It will flake easily when it is done.
Fish filets in a skillet

Remove the skillet from the heat, transfer the filets to dinner plates and enjoy with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Recipe Variations

Here are some creative twists and delicious recipes you can try the next time you’re in the mood for sea bass.

  • Mediterranean Style Sea Bass: Enhance the flavor of your Chilean sea bass by adding a Mediterranean twist. Top your filets with chopped kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and a hint of lemon zest. 
  • Herb-Crusted Sea Bass: Coat the fish in a herb bread crust. Mix breadcrumbs with some finely chopped herbs like rosemary, thyme, and parsley, similar to our rockfish recipe
  • Asian Inspired recipe: Give your sea bass an Asian flair by letting it hang out in our Japanese marinade for 20 minutes before cooking. 
  • Top with salsa: Try topping the pan seared Sea Bass with a vibrant pineapple mango salsa or our corn salsa
  • Serve with a creamy sauce: Swap the thyme butter for our tarragon sauce or lemon garlic sauce. Both are creamy and flavorful and will pair well with the flavor of the sea bass. 

Storage and Reheating

Storage: To store leftover fish, allow it to come to room temperature, then place it in an airtight container and refrigerate it for 2-3 days.

Freezing: You can freeze sea bass for 3 to 4 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge.

Reheating: Reheat the sea bass in an oven at 275°F for about 8-10 minutes, or until the fish is heated through.

Thyme and butter basted Chilean Sea Bass filets in a skillet

What to Serve with Sea Bass:

We served this with roasted fingerling potatoes and a heap of grape tomatoes as they roasted while the fish was cooking. Other options are roasted sweet potatoes, with fresh asparagus. And….a crisp make-ahead beet salad would be lovely. For a great wine paring, choose a crisp white wine like Pinot Gris or a Chablis. 

If you are looking for more healthy recipes to serve with fish, here are some more options. 

Plated Chilean Sea Bass with roasted veggies and lemon wedge

What is Sea Bass?

Chilean sea bass is fished from the waters near Chile but is actually a fish by the name of Patagonian Toothfish and not really a sea bass.  The fish has a buttery, white, flaky flesh and tastes similar to bass when cooked. 

Because the Patagonian Toothfish was a rather unappetizing name for a fish and was not selling well the name was changed to Chilean sea bass in 1977. 

Sea Bass Flavor

Chilean sea bass has a delicate, buttery flavor with a firm texture and large flakes. It is often described as having a taste similar to halibut or swordfish. However, it does not have a strong fishy flavor. When cooked properly, the flesh of this fish should be moist and tender with a rich flavor and mild sweetness. With a simple seasoning of salt and pepper, the rich taste of Chilean sea bass will truly shine! 

Is Sea Bass Healthy?

Yes, sea bass is a healthy source of protein and contains high levels of omega-3 fats which are beneficial for heart health. Our baked sea bass is another healthy recipe that you will enjoy. Here are some more sea bass recipes to try.

Is This Sea Bass Recipe Good for a Keto Diet?

Yes, it is! Chilean sea bass is rich in protein and low in carbohydrates. Our recipe has an easy compound butter that is keto-friendly. If you follow a paleo diet, you can swap the butter for ghee. Serve the fish with zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice to keep it keto or paleo friendly.

Serving of Chilean Sea Bass showing flaky flesh

Frequently Asked Questions:

What makes Chilean sea bass so special?

Chilean sea bass has a luxurious flavor and texture. It’s high fat content gives it a silky, buttery taste and makes it difficult to over-cook. Even if you leave it in the skillet a bit too long, it will still retain some moisture and taste great.

Is Chilean sea bass from Chile?

Chilean sea bass is caught in the waters of Australia, Chile, South Africa and Argentina.

What fish is similar tasting to the Chilean sea bass?

The sablefish, which is also known as black cod has the same rich, buttery-smooth texture to its flesh as the Chilean sea bass.   If you see this at the fish market, buy it, it is delicious! Try our black cod recipe if you find this fish.

What is the best tasting fish in the world?

Well, that’s really a personal preference and depends on your taste. Here is a list of our favorites (in no particular order). Chilean sea bass, cod, sole, halibut, trout, salmon

What internal temperature do you cook sea bass to?

Sea bass is finished cooking when the internal temperature reaches 145°F (per USDA recommendations). We like our sea bass cooked to an internal temperature of 135°F. You can use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. We like using the Thermopen One because it reads an accurate temperature in only 1-second.

More Fish Recipes You Will Love:

Spicy blackened tilapia: Tilapia is a tender, flaky fish with delicate flesh. The spice blend that cooks on the fish is a perfect balance and compliments every bite.

This one-skillet meal is a simple yet delicious way to cook a whole rainbow trout. The fish gets served with a delicious soy citrus sauce.

Bourbon Glazed Salmon: We served this tender, buttery salmon fillet with a luscious bourbon glaze that doubles as a marinade.  This makes an elegant meal that is simple to prepare and ready in under 30 minutes!

Grilled swordfish steak: If you have never cooked swordfish before, this grilled swordfish recipe is the place to start. Swordfish is a firm textured fish with a meaty texture and mild flavor. This recipe is one of our favorites. The lemon dill aioli sauce elevates this recipe to chef status.

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A Chilean sea bass fillet on a dinner plate with tomatoes and lemons.

Chilean Sea Bass Recipe

Yield: 2 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

This skillet-seared Chilean sea bass recipe is fast, easy and an excellent choice for either a special dinner or whenever you need a fast and easy weeknight entrée. These thick filets have a rich, flaky flesh that we basted with a thyme compound butter.

Ingredients

  • 2 Sea Bass filets, 1-inch thick (6 oz. each)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat an 8-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium heat.
    Blot the moisture from the filets with a paper towel, brush lightly with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the butter, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic to a small dish. Blend together. and set aside. 
  3. Pace the filets, flesh side down into the hot skillet. 
    Cook the filets for 4-5 minutes, do not move the filets.  Flip the filets over and cook for another 6 minutes.  
  4. Add a knob of the thyme butter to the top of each filet, basting them as the butter melts.  Continue to cook for another 2 minutes, until the filets are cooked through and flakes appear when tested with a fork. (see notes on how to test for doneness)
  5. Remove the filets from the heat, plate and serve.

Notes

  • We recommend buying wild sea bass if possible
  • Let the fish cook, undisturbed, flesh side down until a crust forms on the bottom of the filet.  To test if ready to turn, gently nudge the fish with a spatula and if it moves, it is ready to flip over.
  • Cook time should be adjusted if using thinner fish filets.
  • We used fresh thyme for the compound butter, other options are rosemary, parsley or chives.
  • To test for doneness, slide a fork into the thickest area of the filet and give it a slight twist.  If done, the flesh will be opaque and there will be visible flaking of the fish
  • We like our sea bass cooked to an internal temperature of 135°F. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145°F. Remember that there will be some carry-over heat and the fish will continue to cook a few degrees more when you remove it from the heat.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 352Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 125mgSodium: 351mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 36g

Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third-party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.

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Pat Nyswonger

Pat is a wife, mom of four adult children, and grandmother to seventeen beautiful children. She is a self-taught home cook and loves creating delicious meals for her family and friends. Her kitchen is the hub of activity in her home, and she loves to entertain.

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Curtis Goldhagen

Monday 3rd of January 2022

My wife and I lovedthe Pan Seared Sea Bass we found it on sale usually at $32/pound it's a little pricey for us but at 23/lb we got 2 fillets cut about .75/lb. in tot The only think is we didn't have fresh thyme so I used fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil, warmed it up over a simmer fla.e in a glass bowl to infuse the garlic into the oil. Other than that followed the recipe cooking instructions. It was terrific I make sure the next time I see Sea Bass on sale I will buy fresh thyme. Thanks this is a permanent card in our recipe file.

Pat Nyswonger

Monday 3rd of January 2022

Hi, Curtis! I am so pleased that this recipe worked so well for you. It is hard to mess up a Chilean sea bass it is so tender and moist that just about any herb or sauce is complimentary. Your garlic/olive oil sounds amazing! Thank you for your feedback, we appreciate hearing from our readers!

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