Pan Fried Sea Bass Portuguese Style (Garoupa Frita com Molho)


Summers in a Portuguese household can be just about guaranteed to involve fried fish.  My mother and Vavó didn’t like the house smelling like fish, so we had this plug in electric skillet that they would take out into the back yard and do all the fish frying. Then they would dip the fish into a corn flour and the fish would sizzle away into deliciousness.  And always there would be a rich salty mohlo (sauce) to put over it.  It’s one of those culinary memories that just becomes engrained into who you are. (Come to think of it, I think I need to get one of those electric skillets so my kids can have the same type of memory!)

It wasn’t often that they would fry up Striped Sea Bass, the fish they would fry up usually included something with a head still attached.  But, Striped Sea Bass is my favorite fish and living in New England, we are lucky enough to have a vast variety of locally caught fish at our disposal.  If you aren’t quite as lucky, what you want to look for is a medium bodied fish (not as delicate as a Tilapia, but not as heavy as a Tuna or Swordfish… you want a Sea Bass or a fresh Codfish) that is descaled, but still has skin.

A couple of notes before we begin.  In this recipe, I have added a bit more crunch by using corn meal instead of flour, but if flour is what you have, use it, it will be delicious.  Also, I am using a homemade crushed red pepper that we make ourselves.  Our red pepper is not so much for spice, as in the grinding process we remove most of the seeds, but more for taste.  If you the crushed red pepper you have available to you has seeds, taste it to be sure of it’s heat level before you add quite as much I do here (unless you enjoy a bit of spice).  If you absolutely do not have Portuguese or even Spanish crushed red pepper at your disposal, you will want to get a red Pablano peppers (if you can find them, if not green will do).  Then grind or chop the pepper, place in a bowl preserving as much of the juice from the process as you can, salt it and let it sit

Let’s start with the Mohlo (sauce) as this can be made several days in advance if need be.

Dice up a medium onion.

Chop up a couple cloves of garlic.


This is the homemade ground red pepper.

Saute the onions for 3-4 minutes over medium/high heat in olive oil (this does not have to be extra virgin olive oil, any press will work fine). Then add in the garlic and saute another minute. Add in pepper.

Turn burner to medium/low heat and continue to saute another 3-4 minutes.

Add in flat leaf parsley.

Continue to saute another 1-2 minutes until it all comes together.

Now onto the fish:

This is Striped Sea Bass.  It’s big enough for about 3 portions.

Cut from skin side down.


Although, as I stated, there is enough for three portions. My husband and I are eating with our two toddlers, so they each get a half portion.

Season the flesh side of the fish with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

This is yellow corn meal. As you can see, it is grainy in consistency.

meal in bowl

Add into a bowl.

season meal

Season the corn meal with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Be sure to nicely coat each side of the fish.

In a skillet heated to med/high heat and about a half a cup of veggie oil, place fish skin side down. Be sure pan is good and hot before you place fish in.  Then don’t touch it!  Wherever you place it, it stays! You don’t want to break the skin by fussing with it.

This will take some patience. Do not fuss with the fish. You are going to want to be sure each side has contact with the pan for at least 3-4 minutes until golden.

Once your fish looks like this, drain on a clean paper towel or brown paper bag.


Plate and pour warm molho over the top. Serve with white rice or boiled white potatoes. Enjoy!

Recipe for Pan Fried Sea Bass (Garoupa Frita com Molho):

(serves 2-3)

For fish:

3/4 lb. Stiped Sea Bass

1 cup yellow corn meal

1 pinch kosher salt

1 pinch fresh cracked black pepper

1/2 cup vegetable oil

For Molho (sauce):

1 medium onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup ground red pepper

1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup olive oil


For Molho: Heat Olive oil in a skillet over medium/high heat.  Saute onions 3-4 minutes. Add in garlic, saute 1-2 minutes.  Add in pepper.  Turn down heat to medium/low.  Continue to saute for 3-4 minutes.  Add in parsley.  Saute 3-4 minutes until all comes together.  Set aside.  (Can be refrigerated up to a week)

For Fish:

Portion out fish into 2-3 portions (or 4 if eating with toddlers).  Season with salt and pepper on flesh side of fish. Season corn meal with salt and pepper.  Coat fish in corn meal.  Heat skillet with vegetable oil over medium/high heat.  Start by placing fish, skin side down.  Do not touch for 3-4 minutes.  Repeat on all sides until golden.  Drain on paper.

Serve by pouring 2-3 Tbls. of Molho over fish. Enjoy!