Baked Freshwater Bass

Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River have been well known for great trout fishing since they were first discovered in the mid-1840s. In the early days, the famous Lahontan Cutthroat, silver and royal, were prevalent. At one point in time, the cutthroat was a prize so valued for its flavor that there were up to 25 commercial fishermen emptying the lake of thousands of tons of fish a year and shipping them to restaurants in San Francisco, Denver and Chicago.

The meat is a flaky white, similar
to cod or sea bass.

As time went on and those species were fished out of the lake, other kinds of trout were introduced to take their place. The mackinaw is king of the lake nowadays. There are also German brown and rainbow trout and kokanee salmon that draw anglers from all over to fish these waters.

READ MORE: Try Chef Smitty’s variations for Herb Butters

All of these fish are a lot of fun to catch and for me the browns and kokanee are especially delicious. Rainbows also are tasty. Although mackinaw is a little fishy and oily for me, prepared in certain ways it makes a great meal, too.

According to some fishermen, trout is the only fish worth catching in the Tahoe area and you’re not a purist if you try for any other type of fish. This is where I have to disagree. The fish that happens to be one of my personal favorite is the smallmouth bass.

READ MORE: Bruce Ajari offers his tips for bass fishing

The meat is a flaky white, similar to cod or sea bass. You can still get the cod for a decent price, but sea bass can go for much more, which makes a trip to the reservoir all that more enticing.

As I mentioned earlier, this fish is great prepared in many different ways. For example, it makes phenomenal fish and chips. It also is great for a fish taco party as many of my friends will attest to. For tacos, you really do not need too many fish because the meat goes a long way. Grilled, fried, broiled or sautéed, there is no bad way of cooking this fish.

My recipe is easy to make and it cooks quickly, too. As a matter of fact, it will probably take no longer to cook than it does to cut the vegetables and mix a little herb butter. For for bass, I like to mix up the butters — either keeping it simple or going a little spicy. I have included a simple butter with sweet basil, shallots, garlic and a little citrus juice.

As always, feel free to change the basil to another herb or add spices to give it more zip if you happen to be in that kind of mood. No matter how you make your butter, give this method a try and enjoy.

Baked Freshwater Bass
4 filets, boned & skinned
3 oz. white wine
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 big carrot
½ sweet onion

Herb Butter for Bass
6 T butter, softened
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
2 T orange or lemon juice (I like tangelos)
6 big basil leaves, chopped fine

Start by thoroughly mixing the softened butter with the garlic, shallot, basil and citrus juice.

Julienne the vegetables, which means you cut them into thin sticks. For the zucchini and yellow squash, try to use only the meaty outer portions and not the softer middle with seeds. The seedy section will get mushy.

Arrange the veggies in a sauté pan and pour in the white wine. Place the filets on the veggies on what was the skin side down and spread 1 tablespoon of the herb butter on each filet. Dollop the rest of the butter around the fish on the veggies and place the pan in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the fish is flakey when touched. For smaller filets, check after 8 minutes.

Serves four people.


Chef Smitty

Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. Smitty has been teaching skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for more than 26 years each winter, and spends his summers working for High Sierra Waterski School since 2000. Smitty has been writing his chef column for Tahoe Weekly since 2005.