We are big fans of Michael Ruhlman and regularly read his food blog, which is where Dan discovered that “branzini” is a really easy and tasty fish to grill. We’re always trying to work new fish recipes into our weekly menu routine, but it can be difficult because I’m not a big fan. But we are mindful of the health benefits of eating fish on a regular basis, so we continue searching for good fish dishes — especially ones that don’t involve breading or heavy sauces that cancel out the beneficial aspects. We have some old favorites (here and here), but this grilled branzini may be the most healthy — and still delicious — we have tried to date. It is also ridiculously easy.
In our experience, branzini (also referred to as “branzino” or “Mediterranean seabass”) can be somewhat hard to find. We found these at Whole Foods (although not all Whole Foods have it.) The store had these branzini ready for the grill — gutted, gilled and scaled (thank goodness.)
It is somewhat daunting to see the face of your food before you cook and eat it. This guy seemed blissfully unaware.
But this one made me a little sad — look at his frowny face. As if he realized what a bad day it was turning out to be for him. Sorry Buddy.
Sprinkle the fish generously with salt, inside and out, then allow it to rest in the fridge for about an hour. As with most new-to-us recipes, we did a bit of research before cooking the branzini. Dan read somewhere that a guy’s grandmother told him to always salt the fresh whole fish before cooking it. We figured it’s a pretty good general rule to follow the cooking advice of grandmothers.
Next, prepare the aromatics that will go inside the branzini. We used red onion (sliced into thin strips), lemon (cut into thin half-moon slices) and sprigs of parsley. But you can use whatever you like or happen to have on hand.
Stuff the aromatics into the cavity of each fish.
Drizzle a generous amount of good olive oil over both sides of each fish to help keep it from sticking to the grill grates. It is also important to grease the grill grates a bit — either by spraying the grates with nonstick grilling spray, or rubbing them with a paper towel dipped in oil (using tongs.)
Another tip we learned from Ruhlman is to press the fish against the grates immediately after placing the fish on the grill. This will sear the fish skin and help keep it from sticking. Grill the branzini over medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side, turning once.
Dan used a combination of tongs and a spatula thingy to turn the fish, and was able to flip each one over without any problem. (Flipping Technique Patent Pending.)
We served the fish with grilled bread, a tomato salad, and this sauce, (from SimplyRecipes, another favorite recipe site.) We prepared the sauce just in case the branzini was too fishy for me, but I can honestly say that while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t need it. The fish was really good on its own — light and flaky with subtle flavor from the aromatics and the grill. Rather than serving on individual plates, we ate family-style right off the cutting board that Dan used to bring in the fish from the grill. It was a fun and different way to eat dinner, and we imagined ourselves being on vacation by the sea, where a friendly fisherman grilled up our fresh catch of the day.