Cooking a whole fish is the best way to ensure it will stay moist and flavorful, and the process is a lot less intimidating than it looks. My husband says he always feels like he’s on a diet when he eats fish, so I cook it with some pancetta to hearty up the dish a bit. Do watch out for small bones when you serve the branzino.–Giada de Laurentiis
LC Branzino For Beginners Note
Branzino is a small Mediterranean sea bass with a mild flavor and a rather delicate texture. It’s quite common on restaurant menus, though slightly less so at fish markets. If you do happen across it, either out to dinner or while out shopping, chances are you’ll encounter it whole as opposed to fillets. The fish takes quite well to roasting or grilling, and its yielding flavor readily accepts aromatics such as lemon and herbs. Mind you, it’s no pushover in terms of being bullied by other ingredients; think of it not as a wallflower but rather as a slight introvert, though one who plays nicely with others.
Roasted Branzino with Lemon Recipe
Hands-On Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes | Serves 4
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Vegetable oil cooking spray
- 2 whole branzino, striped bass, or red snapper (about 1 1/2 pounds each), scaled and gutted, head removed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemons, zest grated, lemons thinly sliced
- 1 medium fennel bulb, fronds coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup), bulb thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1. Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- 2. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Set aside.
- 3. Lay a piece of heavy-duty foil on a baking sheet. Spray the foil with vegetable oil cooking spray. Lay the fish in the center of the foil and cut two 2-inch diagonal slits on each side of each fish, taking care not to cut through the bone. Season the cavities with salt and pepper.
- 4. In a small bowl, mix together half of the lemon zest, the fennel fronds, and the thyme. Divide the mixture among the two cavities. Fill the cavities with the lemon and fennel slices, reserving 4 lemon slices to place on top of the fish. Scatter the cooked pancetta and any fennel that didn’t fit in the cavities around the fish. Pour the wine over the fish and arrange 2 lemon slices on top of each fish. Lay a piece of foil over the fish and crimp the edges of both top and bottom pieces of foil together to form a packet.
- 5. Roast the fish for 30 to 35 minutes, until the flesh flakes easily and is cooked through. Let rest for 5 minutes.
- 6. Carefully remove the top piece of foil and transfer the fish to a cutting board. Remove the fennel and lemon slices from the cavity and arrange on a platter along with the pancetta from the baking sheet. Pull back the skin from the fish. Using a sharp knife, separate the top fillet from the backbone of each fish. Using a metal spatula, transfer the fillets to the platter. Lift the fish backbone from on top of each of the bottom fillets (it should come off easily) and discard. Using the spatula, transfer the two remaining fillets to the platter, leaving the skin behind. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining lemon zest before serving.
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Roasted Branzino with Lemon Recipe © 2010 Giada de Laurentiis. Photo © 2010 Jonelle Weaver. All rights reserved.