Roasted Branzino with Lemon

Roasted Branzino with Lemon

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

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 10 M
  • Serves 4
Print RecipeBuy the Giada at Home cookbook

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  • 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.

Recipe Testers Reviews

Everyone in our house, including the kids absolutely loved this recipe, the fish turned out extremely moist and tasty. The fennel gives a delicate taste of anise yet far from being too strong. Perhaps due to the fact that we used red snappers and maybe due to their size it took a little longer than the suggested 25 to 30 minutes in the oven. It ended up being about 40 minutes to be fully cooked. We served it with steamed asparagus and tiny square potatoes that I fried in the pancetta and oil fat and that not only came out exquisite but an amazing side to the fish.


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  1. This was SO easy and SO elegant! I’ve always wanted to cook a whole fish but have constantly shied away, intimidated by the guts, eyes and overall slippery-ness of handling a real fish. I’m not sure what changed for me today but I saw a gorgeous looking branzino fish staring me in the face at the grocery store and asked the butcher to clean it up for me to cook whole at home. I actually remember being intrigued while reading about this recipe in 2010 and was able to pull it up on my phone at the store. It took maybe 10 minutes of preparation time and cooked in the time it took to put the kids to bed. The trickiest part was figuring out how to serve it as I didn’t want to ruin the gorgeous presentation by hacking it to pieces. For this, I used a metal spatula and carefully split the fish into two. The backbone pulled away easily, as described. The fish was flaky and tender, incredibly fragrant and flavored by the fresh herbs. My only modification was to use sparkling wine because that’s all I had. The rest of the bottle was a perfect way to celebrate my rookie “whole fish” dinner. Next up: salt baked fish!

    1. Amy, I love this! Of course you could pull it off. But I understand the hesitation. I salt roast fish all the time according to the red snapper recipe on our site and it’s a cinch. Can’t wait to hear when you’ve conquered that recipe, too!

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