How to Cook Sea Bass With Lemon and Capers

by Deb Barracato
Widely farmed striped bass can be purchased fresh and frozen year-round.

Widely farmed striped bass can be purchased fresh and frozen year-round.

Many species of fish end up with the moniker "bass" when they reach the market. Look for readily available and sustainable varieties such as striped bass or black sea bass. They share a characteristic firm white flesh that makes a good choice for pan-fried preparations such as piccata. This American variation on the classic Italian lemon and butter sauce adds piquant capers to a short ingredient list that belies the resulting depth of flavor.

Rinse 1 teaspoon of capers per fillet in cold water and set them aside. Bring a heavy skillet to medium-high heat, then add enough oil to barely cover the bottom. Add a pat of butter and swirl it to coat the pan.

Season both sides of the skinless sea bass fillets with salt and pepper. Dredge the fillets in flour, shaking them lightly to knock off the excess. Put them in the skillet without crowding the pan.

Cook the fillets until the bottoms brown, approximately two minutes. Flip and cook them on the other side until the flesh turns opaque and snowy throughout, approximately two or three minutes more. Remove the fillets and put them on a paper-towel lined plate to drain.

Add several splashes of liquid, such as white wine, vermouth or fish stock, to deglaze the pan, scraping up all of the stuck bits of fish and flour. Stir in capers and freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste, and simmer until the liquid reduces by about half, approximately three to four minutes. Finish the sauce with a generous pat of butter, stirring until it melts throughout.

Plate the fish and top each fillet with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sauce. Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley and lemon zest over the top. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Items you will need

  • Heavy stainless steel or cast iron skillet
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Shallow dish
  • Instant or quick-mixing flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spatula
  • Paper towel-lined plate
  • White wine, vermouth or stock
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


  • You can use any all-purpose flour to dredge the fillets, but instant flour prevents clumps in the sauce.
  • The USDA recommends cooking fin fish such as sea bass to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature safely assumed when the flesh turns opaque and flakes apart easily with a fork.


  • If you use a nonstick skillet, add the oil and butter to the pan before you heat it.

About the Author

Since landing her first journalism job editing a small-town weekly in 1992, Deb Barracato has written for and edited newspapers, regional magazines, books and online publications. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Maryland.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images