For years one of my favorite fish to eat when we go out to restaurants is Branzino, also referred to as the Mediterranean Sea Bass, or the French Term Loup de Mer (wolf of the sea). But what ever you call it, just call it delicious! You will always see this glorious denizen of the deep served whole, roasted or grilled. Can you guess why? Lean in close and I’ll tell you a secret….shhh….It’s a pan size fish and here’s the other important factor in its popularity of restaurant Chefs. It’s farm raised, that’s right the Sea Bass has been farm raised in Europe for quite some time now, but hey that’s a good thing in this case. That means that it’s sustainable and that we aren’t eating more than we can replace. The only thing you have to worry about with farm raised seafood is the location of the beds. Normally I don’t like to go outside of the US for any farm raised seafood, but the countries that seem to be involved are more European and should be safer under the regulations of the EU, or at least lets hope so.
So now you know why when you go into your favorite Mediterranean restaurant, Branzino always seems to be on the menu. The other important factor is price, because its farmed the price remains constant, as does the quality and availability.
For the past few months I have noticed Branzino at Wegman’s and it has been calling to me, so I thought I would give it a try. Now here’s a little secret, the Chef has never roasted a whole fish before. But it really wasn’t very hard to do. The only effort involved is gutting and cleaning the fish, and where ever you buy the fish will probably do that for you (which I requested on my second purchase). What you want to be sure of when you are buying whole fish is that the eyes are clear, the flesh is firm and that the only real smell would be that of the sea. Fresh Fish does not smell!!
When gutting make sure you have a very sharp thin bladed knife and start at the tail and work towards the head. You need to make about an inch and a half deep slit into the fish. Remove all of the insides and rinse the fish very well in cold running water from front to back including the gills. Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Get a large enough roasting pan that will hold your fish, and place the fish into the pan. inside the opening you made, place lemon slices and any herbs you might like to include, I used rosemary and included a whole stem in each fish. Gently rub some olive oil onto the skin of the fish and season liberally with ground black pepper and sea salt. Don’t worry the fish won’t be salty! I have even had Branzino baked in a Salt mound, which is supposed to keep it moist, and it was not salty. Now here is the one trick I always do with fish when roasting. Fish came from the sea, so you want to cook with a little water. Never dry roast your fish, unless you are doing it on a grill ( and then I would wrap it in foil with my lemons and seasoning to keep it moist). The water will seriously help keep the fish from drying out, that and not over cooking the fish.
Most Branzino are just a little over a pound, and cooking time should be no more than 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree preheated oven, I use a convection oven and it takes about 18-20 minutes for me.
Now here comes the only really tricky part of the meal, filleting and de-boning.
1. Place the whole fish on a cutting board, and cut off the tail and the head.
2. Slip the tip of a thin knife under the skin and it should lift off easily.
3. gently work the knife or a long spatula under the top fillet and lift it off. Very gently try to turn it over on the cutting board. Check for bones, they will be at either end towards the outside of the fillet. Feel gently with your fingertips trying not to break the fish up. keep a moist folded paper towel nearby to get the bones off your fingers. Place this fillet on the plate.
4. Remove the skeleton from the middle of the fish.
5. Repeat the process of looking for the bones, and then place on top of the other fillet.
There will be a strip towards the bottom of the fish, parts of the flesh will look a little different, I remove these parts as I am de-boning. You will also notice that the bottom skin has disappeared so you don’t have to worry about it!
*What I would suggest is to keep the oven warm and place your finished fillets back in a warm over as you continue to de-bone the other fish.
Prepare your favorite sides, for this meal I served a broccoli rabe risotto and grilled romaine with Caesar dressing. Both went very well with the Branzino!
Broccoli Rabe Risotto
1/2 of one small onion finely diced.
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Vialone Nano Italian Rice (or your favorite risotto rice)
4 cups of light chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup cooked and chopped broccoli rabe
Black Pepper to taste
In a small saucepan add the chopped onion with your butter and olive oil, Saute briefly and then add in the rice, continue to saute for about 5 minutes until risotto grains are a little toasted.
Then begin adding in stock one cup at a time over medium heat stirring occasionally.
After adding the last cup of stock, add in the chopped broccoli rabe, reduce the heat and allow to simmer until all of the stock has been absorbed (don’t let it get too dry, it should be very moist)
Season to taste. If you like adding a handful of good grated Romano cheese is a nice touch.
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz white wine
Juice of one half lemon
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup of pitted mixed olives
pinch of chopped parsley
in a small pan, add in 1 tbsp butter and let it melt
add in chopped olives and sauté for a few minutes
add in white white lemon juice and brown sugar and allow to reduce by about 1/3
take the remaining butter and you can either whip it in to thicken, or you can roll the butter in flour and then add it into the sauce to thicken. Both methods will work,
This sauce should be finished without overheating and set aside until fish is ready to serve, then quickly reheat this topping, add in the chopped parsley and serve immediately.
I don’t if anyone caught it, but I did mention a second purchase when I talked about cleaning the Branzino.
I did make this the day after Christmas, it had been intended as part of our seven fishes, but I wasn’t real happy with my presentation and how the fillets came off the bone. The second time was much better.
I just wanted to share with you, that while its not difficult, its not as easy as it seems.
Please do tell your guests that although you tried your best, to be careful about bones. Fish has bones!!
*my mother taught me a fool proof way of getting rid of small bones that you may accidentally swallow that get caught in your throat. Eat a piece of bread to work it immediately down your throat. We always used soft white bread to make it easier.
I hope those of you that have never tried roasting a whole fish, do try it. If you can find Branzino, I highly recommend it!
Thanks for stopping by and I hope every one is enjoying a wonderful beginning to the New Year!