Sea bass is a name used to encompass a number of different fish. All fish commonly called sea bass are white fleshed and rich in flavor, easily flaking when fully cooked. While true sea bass — black sea bass — is a sustainable and nutritious fish that is inexpensive and easy to find, other fish commonly called sea bass are expensive and cannot be harvested sustainably. You can cook the fish substitutes the same way you would sea bass, using them in the same recipes.
Finding a substitute for a type of fish requires taking into consideration not only the taste of the fish but the overall shape of the fish, which affects the thickness of the fillets, the color, the cooked texture, availability and sustainability. While all sea bass — true bass or not — are white fleshed, they vary in terms of how lean or oil rich the flesh is as well as whether the flesh breaks into smaller or larger flakes. Different types of sea bass may be flakier or richer tasting but in general, any white-fleshed fish works as a substitute for sea bass.
True Sea Bass
A true bass, black sea bass live off the Atlantic Coast, in cold water. It is a lean, flaky white fish whose flesh, when fully cooked, breaks into small flakes. Fish that can be used in place of sea bass include branzino and flounder; the flat fillets also preserve the general shape of black sea-bass fillets. However, tilapia may be the most readily available and affordable substitute for black sea bass. It also has a lean, white flesh that produces small flakes when fully cooked.
Other Sea Bass
Fish commonly called sea bass on restaurant menus include Chilean sea bass and blue spotted sea bass. These fish are not true bass. Chilean sea bass also is known as Patagonian toothfish. It lives in the oceans near South America and Antarctica. Blue spotted sea bass is a grouper. Both types of sea bass are not ocean-friendly fish. The harvesting and production methods associated with these fish are detrimental to overall environmental health, and they cannot be sustainably fished.
Substitutes for Other Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass can be substituted with sablefish, also known as black cod. Sablefish, like Chilean sea bass, has the same white flesh that produces large flakes when fully cooked. It also has a firm texture and a rich, buttery taste. Blue spotted bass can be substituted with striped bass, which is a freshwater fish and a true bass. Striped bass produces sweet-tasting flesh similar to grouper, and the fillets are thick and flaky.
References and ResourcesChef's Resources: Sea Bass Varieties
Cooking Light: Types of Fish
National Geographic: Seafood Substitutions
The Safina Center: Ocean Friendly Subsitutes
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Striped Bass