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What Does Bass Taste Like?

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on February 27, 2021. In

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You can find fresh bass on restaurant menus around the country depending on the time of year. Bass are some of the most delicious freshwater gamefish in North America. Be it largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, or the highly prized black sea bass, they are in demand. People can’t seem to get enough of the tender texture and delicious white meat.

The thing about bass is they don’t all taste the same. This is especially true when you compare freshwater bass to saltwater bass. Black sea bass is quite different than largemouth.

If you’re interested in bass fishing to catch and eat some bass, then it’s good to know what you’re in for. You may already have a favorite flavor, or you may not. Let’s take a look at what some different kinds of bass taste like.

Largemouth Bass

One of the most popular bass to eat, largemouth bass is said to have a clean taste. It’s not as intense and fishy as some species but compared to smallmouth you may feel it’s fishy. If the fish isn’t fresh, this flavor will intensify.

To some, the white meat of largemouth bass has a watery taste. It has a firm and meaty texture. Other fish are flaky, like tuna for instance, but bass holds together well. It is also free from a lot of the pin bones you may find in other fish. That said, it of course still has bones, so make sure it’s been well cleaned.

The fishiness we mentioned in terms of flavor is also present in the smell of largemouth bass. If you’re frying the fish indoors, this smell may become offensive to some people. Obviously this depends on the preparation method. The right mix of seasoning and spices can go a long way to improve the fishy flavor and odor.

  • Lemon
  • Garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dill
  • Butter
  • Mustard
  • Olive oil
  • White wine vinegar

You can use any traditional herb or spice blends with largemouth bass if you like to experiment. Odds are you’ll come up with something you like. Evan pan frying with a little salt, pepper, and butter will do the trick.

Smallmouth Bass

If largemouth bass is not a flavor you enjoy, then smallmouth bass may do the trick. Many people who dislike the taste of largemouth bass prefer smallmouth. It is a more delicate fish with a cleaner and sweeter taste. It is less fishy than largemouth.

Smallmouth bath has a firm texture and white meat. The flavor is much milder than largemouth. It takes well to seasonings and spicing. It would do well with many of the same flavors you would add to largemouth bass. Just remember, as a milder fish, you may not need as intense a spice blend. You don’t want to drown out the taste of the fish entirely.

Black Sea Bass

The meat of black sea bass is firm but tender. It is a lean fish, so don’t expect a greasy mouth feel when you eat it. The flavor is mild but sweet. All of these factors have combined to make it a favorite of restaurant menus.

The fish is best eaten fresh. It is delicate and mild, so if you have an aversion to fishy flavors, this could be a good choice.

Black sea bass lends itself well to numerous cooking methods. You can find recipes for black sea bass that involve:

  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Poaching
  • Frying
  • Grilling
  • Steaming

Like other bass, black sea bass do well when paired with some common spices and seasonings like:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Lemon
  • Dill
  • Black Pepper
  • Red pepper

Striped Bass

Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass have very similar flavor profiles. Striped bass, however, is distinctly different. It is still a delicious fish with an almost buttery flavor. There is a brininess to the white meat. It can get a little fishy, but should not be overly so. Like smallmouth bass, striped bass have a sweetness to them.

There is more fat in striped bass than some other bass species, but not enough to make them too greasy. Wild striped bass will have a much richer flavor than farmed. However, striped bass were fished nearly to extinction about 30 years ago. Populations have rebounded, but many that you find today are the farmed variety.

Striped bass lends itself well to grilling, poaching, frying, baking and more. Use the typical seasonings with striped bass, and it’s sure to be delicious.

Freshwater Bass vs Saltwater Bass

Freshwater bass is not something every bass angler will eat. Many people only fish bass for sport. Because bass can be found all over the place, their diets are diverse. That will alter the flavor of freshwater bass significantly.

Freshwater bass is known to be fishier, on average, than saltwater bass. The flavor can be more intense, and even offensive to some. That’s why freshwater bass is typically less popular. But if you know the fish’s habitat and trust that the water is clean, this shouldn’t be a problem.

A good rule of thumb in trying to figure out if your freshwater bass will taste good is to just inspect the water. If the water source is clean and there is abundant food for the bass, they should taste just fine.

Catch and Release Bass

The fact is many species of bass are not fit for consumption. Some bass are best left for sport fishing, things like the Guadalupe Bass or the Choctaw Bass. These are small and not ideal for eating. Other bass species are in such small populations it is wiser to release them. That way the populations can continue to grow larger.

Most bass anglers will eat saltwater bass but release freshwater bass. This is just a habit for many and isn’t necessary by any means.

Raw Bass

As delicious as bass is, you may want to avoid raw bass. Not every fish is meant to be sushi or sashimi grade. Sea Bass would be better for this preparation if you absolutely wanted to try it. Freshwater bass might be unpleasant in a raw preparation. If you do want to try it you must follow safe handling procedures and make sure it’s well cleaned. At the end of the day, we would recommend not eating raw bass.

Things to Remember

Cooking bass, as with any fish, requires a skilled hand. You never want to overcook your fish and risk burning the tender meat. A good rule of thumb for most bass is about 5 minutes per side. This is just a rough estimate. Thicker fish will take more time, thinner fish will take less time.

Be careful with freshness. Fish is best prepared as soon as possible. Of course you can freeze your bass, but know that it will affect the overall flavor. Frozen bass will not taste as good as fresh bass. If the bass has been sitting out for a while and you notice a heavy fishy smell, it may not be worth the risk.

Be sure to clean your bass thoroughly. Be on the lookout for pin bones and any potential contamination such as parasites. Depending on the waters you fish in, your bass could be dangerous. Cleaning any kind of fish properly is always important.

You’ll want to scale the bass before cooking it. Use the back of your filet knife or, even better, a fish scaler. Make sure you clean the inside of your fish properly. Remove all the internal organs and clean your filets.

If it was fresh caught, once you remove your filets and skin them, you need to soak them. The filet will still have blood in it and you don’t want that. Let the filet soak until the water changes color, then replace with fresh water. Keep doing this until the water stays clear.

Consider letting your fish marinate in a seasoning mixture to really give it a flavor boost. A good marinade doesn’t have to be too complicated. You can buy pre-made mixes or make your own. An acid with some spices and oil will work very well for bass.

Bass and other fish can absorb pollutants into their flesh. If you’re not familiar with the quality of water in which you’re fishing, don’t risk eating your catch.

The Bottom Line

Whether you fish freshwater or saltwater, bass can make a delicious meal. The meat holds up well to nearly any preparation. It is well complemented by most spice and seasoning mixes as well. If you’ve never thought to give bass a try, it’s well worth it.

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