An unusually good-looking slab of fresh Chilean sea bass at the fish shop the other day inspired me to tinker a bit with a Marcella Hazan recipe I'd been looking at for a while, and the result, I think, was one of the tastiest fish entrees to grace our table for a long, long time.

Designed for halibut but suitable for any thick, firm-fleshed, fish steaks, this recipe would work well with swordfish, for instance; and was superb with this Chilean treat, a real rarity (and an expensive one at $12 a pound when it's available) around here.

In summary, it's a fish fillet topped with a coating of bread crumbs and a clam sauce that's very much like the Northern Italian white-clam pasta sauce, then baked over charcoal in a closed Weber kettle grill.

Here are the details:

    1 1/2 pounds Chilean sea bass (or other firm, white-fleshed fish) in the form of a boneless steak. I had a thick one but butterflied it for quicker cooking.
    1 6.5-ounce can chopped or minced clams
    1/4 cup finely minced sweet onion
    1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
    1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
    salt and pepper
    1 tablespoon good olive oil
    1/3 cup dry white wine
    Juice of 1/2 lime
    1/4 cup unflavored bread crumbs (I chopped a chunk of Italian bread in the Cuisinart, steel blade) toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown)

Start charcoal going in the grill. Wash and dry the fish steaks, put them on a plate, rub them all over with the lime juice.

Next make the quick white-clam sauce: Sautee the onion and garlic in a non- stick pan over high heat until translucent but not brown. Add the chopped parsley, salt and pepper; stir once or twice, and pour in the wine. Stir once or twice, then reduce until the liquid is gone. Drain the clams, reserving the juice from the can, which should be about 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Add the clam juice to the pan and continue cooking until it is almost dry, then stir in the clams and remove from heat.

Put the fish steaks in an aluminum pie pan, and spoon the clam sauce (which should not be liquid) over the top of them. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the clam sauce and press it in gently.

Place the fish and topping in its aluminum pan on the grill (indirect heat) and close the lid. Leave it alone for about 10 minutes, then serve. (Alternative cooking method: Bake for 10 minutes in the upper level of a 450F oven.)

It was a remarkably good dish ... and went very well indeed with the moderately priced Lucien Albrecht 1993 Alsace Pinot Blanc.

This exceptionally tasty preparation, bathing boneless fillets in a vegetable sa uce full of aromatic flavors, would work with just about any flavorful fish. I went with striped bass, because it was so fresh, and because it's so durn pretty ...