My wife came home with a whole branzino last night. Branzino, if you are not familiar, is a European sea bass. It is an amazing tasting fish, popular around the Mediterranean. There are a few classic ways to prepare it and my lovely wife, always wanting to play “Chopped” with me, wanted me to fix it in a salt crust. We go to this wonderful restaurant in New York called Esca – Mario Batali’s seafood restaurant – and they do a branzino in salt and that’s what she wanted. Basically, it’s the whole fish completely surrounded by a thick layer of sea salt which becomes hard as it bakes and holds the moisture of the fish in. When you remove the fish from the salt crust, which breaks off in big pieces, the fish is perfectly cooked. What you cannot do is also try to stuff the fish at the same time. Well, maybe YOU can, but I certainly can’t. So, this is NOT that recipe. I will include the salted recipe once I have actually done it well. It’s simple I hear. I will keep you posted.
In the meantime, here is a stuffed branzino that is a classic Italian staple. I couldn’t find any tarragon in the garden when I made this but I might have put a few pieces of grass in inadvertently. Seemed good. I have substituted the grass for real tarragon in this recipe.
- Whole Branzino (16-18 inches long)
- 1/2 Fennel Bulb, shaved
- 2-3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme, chopped
- 1 Teaspoon Fresh Tarragon, chopped
- White Wine
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Sharp Boning Knife
- Mixing Bowl
- Ceramic Baking Dish
- Chef’s Knife
- Kitchen Shears
- Mandolin (optional)
- Clean the branzino. You can have your fishmonger do this if you don’t feel up to it but make sure that he debones from the top. To clean: Cut all of the fins off with shears. With the boning knife, cut down the length of the fish, starting at the head, on one side along the bones, slowly separating the flesh from the bone. Make sure that you don’t cut all the way through the belly. Repeat on the other side. Snip off the top and tail of the bones. Pull the guts out. Remove the little bones near the head with the pliers. There are not many of these but it’s worth getting rid of them. Rinse the fish under cold water to get rid of any left over junk.
- Pre heat oven to 350.
- Shave the fennel bulb with a mandolin or cut it very thinly. A vegetable peeler also works in a pinch.
- Add fennel to a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper.
- Add the zest of 1/2 of the lemon and a squeeze. Mix together.
- Stuff the mixture into the fish and close.
- Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of the dish and lay the stuffed fish in it.
- Drizzle a little oil over top and a squeeze of lemon.
- Lay 3-4 thin slices of lemon over top and a few additional sprigs of thyme.
- Pour about 1/2 cup of white wine in the bottom.
- Roast at 350 for about 25-30 minutes. The fish is cooked when the eye turns white.