Until recently, I was really intimidated by the prospect of cooking a whole fish. I thought there was just too much that I needed to know, knowledge that could not be grasped by this land-locked Mid-westerner that is not the daughter of a fisherman.
The turning point came in Italy last summer when Matt and I ordered whole fish in a restaurant for the first time. We went up to the display of fresh seafood, picked our victims, and sat down to our primi piatti. Before I knew it, our empty pasta plates were being cleared and our waiter was table-side, filleting our two little fish.
Wow…those fish went from being nestled in ice to being grilled and sitting on my plate in a very short amount of time. And they were delicious. Maybe it’s not so complicated after all. Maybe I can do this…
I can do this and now I have, several times. And it may be one of the easiest dinners in my repertoire.
Tonight I’m making Branzino, a.k.a. Mediterranean Sea Bass. The fishmonger took care of the scary stuff for me. The scales have been taken off and the guts removed. All I have to do is season it up, toss something fragrant and tasty in the cavity, shingle some lemon slices over the skin, and bake or grill it.
Oil the fish, inside and out, rub with garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes. Fit as many fennel and shallot slices as you can in the belly and roast the rest on the side. Tie on some lemon slices. Into the oven for thirty minutes and you’re done. Remove string and lemons and cut off the fillets. The Branzino is wonderfully moist, delicately lemony, with just enough anise flavor from the fennel.
That wasn’t hard at all. What cooking fear should I conquer next?
- 1 whole Branzino (Mediterranean Sea Bass), scaled, gutted, rinsed, and patted dry
- ½ large bulb Fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 small Shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 Lemon, thinly sliced
- 1 clove Garlic, minced
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Rub cavity and skin of the fish with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper flakes. Stuff cavity with sliced fennel and shallot. Layer slices of lemon on the skin of both sides of the fish and use kitchen twine to secure. Place in baking dish and surround with remaining fennel and shallots.
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
- Preheat oven to 375º.
- Bake fish approximately 30 minutes until flesh is somewhat opaque but still very moist. Remove fillets and serve with additional lemon, olive oil, and red pepper, if desired.