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Cooking school tutorial – Chef Desi Szonntagh’s Chilean seabass with vegetable ragout in broth

Want to cook gourmet but have no idea how to start? We have a step-by-step tutorial from Chef Desi Szonntagh of LA’s well-known Cézanne Restuarant!

A new kid in town
Santa Monica’s C�zanne has fast become my new favorite Los Angeles area “special occasion” restaurant and Cezanne’s executive chef, Desi Szonntaugh my new favorite chef. Hey, Hans Rockenwagner had a good long run, but there’s a new kid in town and his food really sings. But that’s doing it an injustice. More than singing, the food served at C�zanne is like a complex harmony of flavors and textures that, like an especially brilliant piece of music, lovingly lives and lingers in memory months, or even years, after the actual experience.

While everything we had at C�zanne was first rate, absolutley not to be missed are the Seared Dvier Scallops in a surprisingly spicy Arugula and Caper Brown Butter and served with Hand Rolled Gnocci and Clam Shell Mushrooms. Fans of Foie Gras should run, not walk to C�zanne for Seared Foie Gras with Persimmon, Cranberry Glaze and Brioche — it is heavenly.

One of the best things about my job is that, in order to share the knowledge with you, I get to spend spend time in the kitchen with talented people like Chef Desi. Before coming to C�zanne, Desi was the Executive Sous Chef at the acclaimed Terrace Restaurant at Hotel Bel-Air, where he created a menu that earned the restaurant accolades in the pages of Saveur magazine.

Photographer Mitch Mandell and I recently spent the afternoon at the classically appointed C�zanne, nestled in the luxurious Le Merigot Hotel on Ocean Avenue, where Chef Desi demonstrated how to make a light and healthy Chilean Seabass dish that’s layered with a perfect balance of subtle flavors and tantalizing textures. Get the recipe and see Chef Desi in action below.

Visit Cezanne!
If you live in or plan on visiting Southern California, a visit to C�zanne will leave you and your companion(s) with a truly memorable dinner experience — from the rich decor and tableware, to the elegant live piano background music, to the exquisite cuisine of Chef Desi Szonntaugh. C�zanne offers all-day dining with a complete breakfast, lunch and dinner menu that utilizes the finest ingredients, inspiring many return visits from locals and travelers alike.

You can find C�zanne in the Le Merigot Hotel (a JW Marriott Beach Hotel & Spa) at 1740 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California. For more information or to make reservations call (310) 395-9700.

Recipe notes

Those on a strictly low carb diet (or those too lazy to make it) can skip the cannelli beans and mushrooms. Although the recipe will lose a bit of its meaty complexity, it’s still delicious. Otherwise the beans and portobellos add a wonderful texture, flavor and nutritional boost to this recipe. You can also skip the basil oil garnish, but why not make some? Not only will it give this recipe that extra “gourmet” touch. It will keep in your refrigerator for about two weeks and can be used for saut�eing or in salad dressings, sauces and marinades.

While our photos show Chef Desi cooking one dinner, you could easily cook two (or even four or six) portions at the same time, providing you have a large enough oven proof skillet.

Chilean Seabass Marinade
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 teaspoons canola oil
2 filets, about 6 oz. each, Chilean seabass
3-4 cloves peeled garlic

Vegetable Ragout
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups red onion, thinly sliced
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup roasted red or yellow bell peppers, sliced into strips
1/2 cup fresh fennel, thinly sliced
1/3 cup leeks (white bulb part only) sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup cannellini beans with mushrooms
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh basil
Chicken stock
Garnish (optional)
A few drops of basil oil

From the second we walked into Chef Desi’s kitchen, the aroma told Mitch and I that we were someplace special and good things were ahead.

If you get all your ingredients for this recipe in place, like chef Desi (below), this dish goes together amazingly fast, with fish and vegetable ragout being perfectly cooked at the same time.

Instructions for this recipe:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thinly slice the white part of the fennel bulb (you can use the leafy top for a garnish or save for another purpose), and cut the well-washed white portion of the leek into thin strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Heat chicken stock.

Heat an oven-proof skillet over very high heat. Add a dash of Canola oil and heat until it starts to smoke. Put the fish filets into the pan and cook to brown or caramelize the fish, about 2-3 minutes per side. Chef Desi explained that since Chilean Sea Bass is high in healthy fish oil content, the caramelizing step will give your fish a nice nutty flavor. You’re looking for a nice light brown color on the fish (photo left). Place the peeled garlic cloves in the hot pan and immediately take the fish in the oven-proof skillet off the stove and place in preheated oven. Roast until fish is cooked — about 7 to 10 minutes. You’ll be able to tell because the flesh of the Seabass will just start to separate into layers (photo right).

While fish is roasting, prepare vegetable ragout. In another skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add red onions and saut� for a minute (photo left) or so before adding the fennel garlic, leeks, tomato and roasted pepper (photo right). Add a cup of white wine, the cannelli beans and portobellos, season with salt and pepper and cook vegetables until wine is reduced by half. Add a cup of chicken stock. Stir to mix and strain off broth into another small saut� pan (photo bottom). Reserve vegetables and keep warm. Stir fresh basil into the vegetable mixture.

Cook stock over high heat until it is a reduced down to a glaze. You’re going to cook it until it almost gone. Chef Desi says there is a perfect moment when the stock has reduced to the perfect degree — it turns into a caramel brown thick syrup. At this point, immediately pour the reduced stock glaze over the (by now) fully cooked fish filets (photo right).

Mound a pile vegetable ragout in the center of a large shallow bowl. Top with glazed fish filet. Pour hot chicken stock into the bowl (photo below). Garnish with microgreens and dot a few tiny drops of bright green basil oil into the chicken broth, as in the finished photo at the top of the page.

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