Whole branzino, stuffed with herbs and lemons, quickly touched by the flames of the grill, and then served simply with lemon and herb infused olive oil.
Grilling branzino, also known as Mediterranean sea bass, is a straightforward but amazingly delicious way to incorporate some Mediterranean flavors into your culinary repertoire. Grilling the whole fish, after stuffing it with lemon slices and fresh herbs, allows its natural taste to shine. The addition of lemon and herbs gives it a mild, aromatic touch without overshadowing the fish’s own flavor. When cooked, the branzino has a light, flaky texture that is almost universally loved. Here, we are accompanying it with a simple citrus oil that adds a hint of freshness, which complements the fish’s mild flavors and the charred notes from the grill.
What you need to know about branzino:
Origin and Names:
Branzino is a European sea bass predominantly found in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s known by various names depending on the region, such as “loup de mer” in France and “spigola” in Italy.
Appearance and Taste:
This fish has a slender, silver body with a mildly sweet, white flesh. It’s known for its delicate flavor and light, flaky texture when cooked.
Branzino can be prepared in multiple ways, including grilling, roasting, and steaming. It’s often cooked whole to preserve its moistness and flavor.
Branzino is a low-calorie source of protein. It also provides essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health.
Due to its mild flavor, branzino pairs well with a variety of ingredients, especially citrus fruits, fresh herbs, and olive oil, often used in Mediterranean cuisine.
Branzino has gained popularity in many high-end restaurants around the world, particularly because of its versatility and the ease with which its bones can be removed post-cooking.
Basic Branzino Cooking Tips
As with all seafood, the freshness of branzino is crucial. When selecting, look for clear eyes, a firm touch, and a fresh ocean scent. Avoid fish that smells overly fishy or off.
Mind the Skin:
Branzino skin is thin and can stick to grills or pans. If grilling, ensure the grill is well-oiled and hot before placing the fish on it. When pan-searing, use a non-stick skillet or ensure your regular skillet is sufficiently hot and oiled.
Branzino’s delicate flavor can be easily overshadowed. Stick to simple seasonings like salt, pepper, and herbs. Citrus fruits, like lemon or lime, can complement its taste without overpowering it.
Due to its slender shape and delicate flesh, branzino cooks quickly. Overcooking can dry out the fish, so it’s vital to monitor closely, especially if grilling or roasting.
Step by Step Guide to Making Whole Grilled Branzino
Prepare the Branzino:
Request your fishmonger to clean, de-scale, and de-gut the branzino. Once home, pat the fish dry thoroughly using paper towels.
Preheat the Grill:
Heat your outdoor or indoor grill to a high setting.
Season and Stuff the Fish:
Sprinkle the inside of each fish cavity with salt and pepper. Add 2-3 lemon slices (consider halving them if too large) and a few sprigs of your chosen herbs.
Olive Oil Coating:
Generously brush olive oil on the outside of each fish to prevent sticking and enhance flavor.
Grilling the Branzino:
Place the stuffed fish on the preheated grill. Grill for 5-7 minutes on one side until the skin has a nice char. Carefully turn the fish and grill the other side for another 5 minutes or until the fish appears opaque.
Grilling the Lemon:
While the fish is resting, place the reserved lemon half on the grill. Grill until it achieves light char marks.
Prepare Herb Olive Oil:
In a mixing bowl, combine finely chopped herbs, olive oil, lemon zest, and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well until all ingredients are well combined.
Serving the Fish:
Lay the grilled fish on its back on a platter and gently remove the lemon slices and herbs from inside. Use a fork to open the fish, exposing the fillets. The spine should come off smoothly. If preferred, use a pairing knife to remove the head and tail. Drizzle the fish fillets with the herb olive oil and finish with a squeeze from the grilled lemon.
Samantha Ferraro is the food blogger and photographer for The Little Ferraro Kitchen. Samantha comes from a diverse background and is originally from Brooklyn NY, until she turned to the island life and moved to Hawaii. Now Samantha blogs about world cuisine recipes made easy in Southern California with her Italian husband and their dog Hula. When she’s not blogging or making a mess in the kitchen, you can find her traveling the world for recipe inspiration.