From Arugula to Ziti: Cocoa Chilean Sea Bass

When I was 16 I got to pick my “sweet sixteen” birthday present, so my dad and I got SCUBA certified together. This was my junior year of high school, at an arts-magnet school in downtown Durham, North Carolina. My four years at Durham School of the Arts did a lot for me (made me want to be a photographer, for one), including shaping my views on the world and the environment. My friend Julia and I started an environmental club, picked up trash we saw on the sidewalk, and crusaded to expand protected forests and save trees from development.

When I started spending a lot of time underwater with my Dad, my passion for saving the world came with me. I would dive with a little baggie to pick up any trash (excluding glass bottles that had already become something's home), and yell at any passengers who threw cans and cigarette butts off the side of the boat- something that is more common than you would expect. My Dad's political views are polar opposite from mine, but one area where I can usually see eye to eye with him is the ocean. Years after our first ocean water dive he now runs a dive charter in the Outer Banks, and while I can't convince him that global warming is real he understands the gravity of taking care of the sea, which is his livelihood.

Part of the draw for North Carolina offshore diving is that we have a lot of shipwrecks. You could say that Eastern North Carolina is based on pirate culture—early settlers would put lanterns on the necks of horses and lead them up and down the banks, convincing ships coming in at night that they were boats in a harbor. When the incoming boats wrecked, the settlers would loot and pillage the wrecks. Now these wrecks attract tourists and divers by acting as artificial reefs, drawing a wide variety of local fish and fish that are passing through the nearby Gulf Stream.

Beyond putting an end to littering, pollution, and oil spills, one part of saving our oceans is sustainable fishing. I grew up offshore fishing everything from Spanish mackerel to mahi mahi, and I love a good fish dish as much as the next person. Like any omnivore, I believe that the food chain is a great thing, as long as we're respectful and conscious of what we're eating. For me that means both eating ethically raised meats as well as making sure I'm not eating fish that is endangered, at risk, or raised in a way that is harmful to the ocean I hold so dear.

I'm absolutely not an expert on sustainable fishing, just a lover of the ocean. There are others, however, who are. A recent article on the Smithsonian food blog “Food and Think” covered the reintroduction of Chilean Sea Bass, which can now be found certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Chilean Sea Bass is a hearty fish that is rich and completely delicious, so I'm thrilled that there is now a sustainable way to find it. I scooped some up at the grocery store, dredged it in cocoa powder and cayenne, and enjoyed it with a mojito and a guilt-free conscience.

For more information on sustainable fishing, check out the National Museum of Natural History's guide.

Cocoa Chilean Sea Bass

2 steaks chilean sea bass
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix together cocoa, cayenne, and salt & pepper.

Dredge the fish in the mixture, turning so that all sides are covered.

Heat oil in a skillet and cook the fish 10 minutes over medium-high heat. The fish should be opaque in the middle and firm.

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a writer and photographer and can be found on her own website,
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