Pan Roasted Branzino
Growing up in Italy, the best treat of all would be to go to a fish restaurant. Even with 4,700 miles of coastline, and numerous fishermen professional or not, eating fish is the ultimate treat for many Italians. So it was with great deference that I first approached the Spigola, as it was called in central Italy, or Branzino, in Northern Italy. And knowing that it was a very expensive dish made me savor every single bite as if it was a gift from the sea.
When the first farmed branzino started to be marketed in Italy, I was startled by the drop in price compared to the wild caught ones of my youth. I bought one at the market with a little apprehension. I was in for a big surprise; perfectly delicate taste, tender and flaky texture, not oily: the fish is a great one even when farmed.
Now, farming methods have improved hugely, and the fish is usually farmed in the sea: a technique used in Italy as well as in Greece, Turkey, and other Mediterranean countries. All in all, branzino is an exceptionally good choice, very low in mercury, offered at a reasonable price, and usually very fresh. Branzino is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and has a low calories count.
It can be cooked whole, but for those who do not like to remove the bones while eating, you can ask the fishmonger to fillet it: you will have 2 beautiful filets, usually corresponding to 2 small or 1 large portion, depending on what else you are serving. This is the way we use it in this specific recipe.
1 branzino, approximately 20 oz whole, cleaned, and filleted.
1 cup or more sweet grape tomatoes, cut in half
Basil leaves, 6-8
Parsley, 6-8 stems
Spinach (optional) 1 cup cut
1-2 garlic cloves, whole or cut in half
3 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
EV Olive Oil as needed
Salt and pepper
1. Heat up a nonstick pan, large enough for all the fillets.
2. Drizzle with olive oil.
3. Add the tomatoes, cut basil, cut parsley, and cut spinach, garlic, stir once and let it sizzle gently for 5-10 minutes, almost until when the green leaves start to burn, and the tomatoes are caramelized. Add salt and pepper, a pinch of crushed hot pepper if desired.
4. In the meantime, divide each fillet in 2 pieces, lengthwise with a sharp knife, going through the skin. Make sure that there are no bones left. Rinse and pat dry. Drizzle the white meat side with EVOO.
5. Put the (now) 4 fillets in the hot pan, making space among the tomatoes and the greens, skin side up. Let them sizzle without touching on a medium fire, just enough to get some color, 3-4 minutes.
6. Turn the filets with a long spatula, trying not to break them. Let it cook just a couple of minutes more.
7. Transfer to an oiled oven-proof white ceramic dish, starting with the tomatoes and the greens first, then gently putting on top the fish. Adjust with salt.
8. Pour wine and lemon juice in the pan, deglaze, and let it evaporate. Pour the sauce (just a couple of tablespoons) on the fish in the ovenproof dish.
9. Finish to cook the fish in the oven for approximately 10 minutes @ 350.
A Few Notes:
- If you are serving the fish right away, you can finish the cooking process in the pan. Just cook 6-8 minutes longer with the lid on, on a slow fire.
- Putting the fish in a ceramic dish allows you to prepare it in advance, be with your guests until last minute, and have a clean kitchen 😉
- If you refrigerate it after the pan cooking part, don’t forget to bring it at room temperature before cooking, removing the dish from the fridge at least one hour in advance; or add 10 minutes oven cooking time, but first cover the pan with aluminum foil, as the Branzino could become too dry.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.