What Is Branzino?
Branzino. Sounds kinda like a the name of a 1940s prizefighter, doesn't it? If it’s ringing a bell, that’s because this fish is popping up in American supermarkets. Also known as European sea bass, the fish—now farmed throughout the Mediterranean—has been a prized item on European menus since the days of ancient Rome.
The farmed variety began appearing on American restaurant menus a in the early 2000s, when the European farming operations ramped up production.
How to Tell if Branzino Is Fresh
Branzino, which is the fish’s name in Northern Italy, generally runs about one pound each and is almost always sold whole and gutted. This is a good thing, since it's far easier to discern whether a fish is fresh when it still has its eyes and gills.
Here's what you're looking for:
- Bright, clear eyes
- Bright red gills
- Avoid fish with sunken, red eyes and brownish gills. This means the fish has gone off.
We found ours at Whole Foods quite by accident—I saw the whole fish in the case and was immediately seduced by the sight of a whole fish, with gleaming clear eyes. I had to have it.
When I asked the price, I was even happier. It was only $9.99 a pound, which is pretty cheap for Whole Foods. The relatively low price is because the fish is farmed.
Should you ever see a wild branzino on sale in the United States, it’ll set you back at least $30 a pound—and I’ve only seen one in a market once, and that was at the Fulton Fish Market in New York City.
Can't Find Branzino?
No problem. Midwesterners actually have the perfect alternative in the walleye. The flavor, texture, and bone structure are nearly identical.
Other great alternatives would be Pacific rock cod, Atlantic black seabass, a large croaker, or a small red drum or striped bass. Basically, you want a whole fish (scaled and gutted, of course) that is just about the size of a platter.
Purists eat their branzino solely with salt and lemon. We’ve created a rosemary vinaigrette that goes great with the fish. Simply drizzle it over right when you serve.
What to Serve With Branzino
This grilled fish recipe goes well with crusty bread and a glass of pilsner beer or white wine.
Incidentally, the vinaigrette for this recipe would also be great with potatoes, chicken, or turkey – or just over a tossed salad.
Can I Use Dried Rosemary?
This recipe isn't difficult, but it is elegant and fresh. The rosemary vinaigrette that accompanies it is best made with fresh rosemary. The fresh herb gives it a brighter flavor. However, if you only have dried rosemary, remember the general rule of thumb for substituting dried herbs is to use 1/3 the amount that the recipe calls for when the herb is fresh. In this case, use 1 heaping teaspoon of dried rosemary as a substitute for the 1 heaping tablespoon called for in the ingredients. (1 teaspoon is 1/3 of a tablespoon.)
Tips for Preparing Branzino
Follow these tips for a successful Grilled Branzino.
- Wash the fish under cold water first and pat it dry.
- Remove any remaining gills or scales on the branzino.
- Use a very sharp knife when cutting slits into the fish. A dull knife will result in ragged slits that won't look as elegant when the fish is placed on the table.
- Don't forget to prepare the grill before putting grilling the fish. Make sure it's clean from previous uses.
Serving Grilled Branzino
Use a spatula or a fork to lift the meat from the bones and transfer it to dinner plates. Work from the centerline of the fish outward toward the fins, angling back toward the tail.
The Best Side Dishes for Branzino
To round out your meal, try one of these side dishes.
More Grilled Fish Recipes to Try!
Grilled Branzino with Rosemary Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons onion, minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the fish
- 1 whole branzino
- Salt, preferably sea salt
Make the rosemary vinaigrette:
Put the minced onion, mustard, salt, vinegar, garlic and rosemary into a blender and pulse it for about 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender and purée it again for 10-20 seconds. Scrape the sides down again.
Turn the blender on low and take the removable cap off the lid. Hold your hand over the hole, as it might spit a little. Pour the olive oil in slowly and put the cap back on.
Turn the blender off and scrape the sides down one more time. Turn the blender back on low, then high for 60 seconds.
Prepare the fish:
Rinse the fish under cold water. Now make sure its gills and scales are all removed; your fishmonger is not always so diligent about this task, and no one wants a scale on their plate. Gills can impart a bitter taste to the fish, so they need to go, too.
Make cuts on the sides of the fish:
Use a very sharp knife and make several slashes on the sides of the fish, maybe every inch or so. Make the cuts at an angle to the side of the fish, and slice down until you feel the spine. Do not sever the spine, however. These cuts will help the fish cook faster. Rub olive oil all over the fish and set it aside.
Prepare the grill for high, direct heat:
Scrape down the grates well and close the lid. Salt the fish well. Now grab a paper towel, a set of tongs, and some cheap vegetable oil. Bring all of this out to the grill.
Fold the paper towel over several times, moisten it with the vegetable oil, and hold it with tongs to wipe down the grill grates.
Grill the fish:
Lay the fish down on the grill and close the lid. Let this cook for 5 minutes without touching it.
Open the lid and, using tongs, gently see if you can lift the fish off the grates cleanly. Don’t actually do this, but check for sticky spots. If you have some, get a metal spatula. Use the spatula to dislodge the fish from the sticky spots.
Using tongs in one hand, and the spatula in another, gently flip the fish over. If it sticks, no biggie. It happens sometimes.
Finish grilling the fish:
Once the fish has been flipped, let it cook another 3-5 minutes with the lid on. Again, test for sticky spots with the tongs and spatula. Dislodge them gently and gently lift the fish onto a plate.
If the fish is too long or seems like it might break in half, use two metal spatulas instead of the tongs-and-spatula set-up.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the fish and serve at once:
Goes well with crusty bread and a glass of pilsner beer or white wine.