Whole roasted branzino with lemon and shaved fennel salad is a lesson in the subtle charms of simple things done well. The mild, almost sweet, taste of the Mediterranean fish and the tender flakiness stands out in sharp, desirable contrast to the expertly crisped skin.–David Leite
*What is branzino?
Branzino is a smallish Mediterranean sea bass known in Italy as branzino and also under the name loup de mer in France. It’s a white-fleshed, mild, flaky fish that’s lovely roasted or grilled whole or filleted and pan-seared. If you can’t find it, substitute trout, red snapper, or flounder.
Whole Roasted Branzino with Lemon and Shaved Fennel Salad
For the fennel salad
For the branzino
- Two or three (1-pound) whole branzino*, cleaned
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lemons, preferably Meyer, sliced, plus more for serving
Make the fennel salad
- Trim the fennel, reserving the fronds. Halve the bulb lengthwise and cut away the core if it seems tough. Using a mandoline or other handheld slicer, thinly shave the fennel into long ribbons. Finely chop the fronds.
- In a medium bowl, combine the shaved fennel, fennel fronds, parsley, olive oil, and vinegar and toss to coat well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Make the branzino
- Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Rinse and pat the fish dry. Place it on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil over each fish and rub it all over, being sure to get it into the cavity.
- Generously season the entire fish, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices in the cavity, overlapping them slightly.
- Bake the fish until it’s slightly opaque throughout and the lemons have wilted, 10 to 15 minutes. It should be almost but not quite completely cooked through.
- Turn on the broiler to its highest setting and broil, flipping once, until the skin crisps and the fish is opaque when tested with the tip of a knife, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
- Serve the roasted fish with the fennel salad and extra lemon slices, if desired.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
As suggested, I subbed trout for branzino, as our local market had some gorgeous rainbow trout that I had picked up before I even saw the recipe list. Short of cooking trout with buttery potatoes next to the river my grandpa pulled it from, this is the best trout I’ve had. The skin was crisp and delicious. My husband said he felt like he was eating at a fancy New American restaurant.
I thought the fennel was delicious, but the parsley was a little overpowering. It was a nice salad, though, and a great balance with the fish and lemon.
I love making whole roasted branzino. It’s easy to put together as long as you have your fishmonger gut and scale the fish. Placing the lemons in the cavity infuses the flesh with a subtle hint of lemon, and because these are Meyer lemons, there’s a sweetness from the fruit in addition to the customary tartness of the lemon. If Meyer lemons aren’t in season or are difficult to find, I think this recipe would work equally well with regular lemons (organic preferred since they’re cooked inside of the fish).
The shaved fennel salad with it’s very delicate dressing is a perfect complement to the fish. I broiled the fish for 3 minutes on each side which gave it a perfectly crisp skin.
Fresh fish, delicate and bright tasting, makes a wonderful meal, especially in hot weather. A very fresh whole fish has no competition. Brazino is a Mediterranean sea bass, very light flavored. In this time when we are so stressed every day, it’s a meal that makes you feel like you are doing something good for yourself.
I was able to find branzino and Mr. Fish weighed almost 1 1/4 lbs. I cooked it 15 mins at 400°F and then under the broiler for 10 mins. I tried to flip it when the skin was crisp but the skin stuck to the parchment.
The slaw was a good foil for the tender fish with a crunchy bite and flavor of anise. One fish was good for 2 servings with the slaw and side of rice with scallions and lemon pepper.