Whole Roasted Branzino with Mint-Basil Relish
This recipe is part of the main course to a 1-Hour Sicilian inspired 3-Course Valentine’s Day menu. To see the complete menu and a detailed shopping list, visit this post!
One of my favorite foods ever. Probably my favorite Italian entree. Yes, even more than pasta! Whole roasted branzino!
Branzini is the plural form in English, but in Italian its branzini – regardless of a singular or plural number. Not to get too scientific, lets get everyone on the same page with a fish mini-lesson. Branzini are in the Moronidae family of fish, which makes them a “temperate bass” – hence why they are commonly marketed as European Sea Bass in the US. Native only to the waters of the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea, geographically their prevalence in the US doesn’t make much sense, especially a fish for which there are numerous substitutes (red snapper, another bass, etc.). But branzini are consistent. Rich in omega-3s and a flaky, white, moist, and mild tasting flesh makes them both extremely versatile and extremely popular.
Here’s the other reason they are so popular. They are crazy easy to prepare. Due to heightened levels of demand, most branzini available in the US are farm raised rather than wild caught. Where are the farmed branzini coming from? The Mediterranean – often Greece or Cyprus. Increased farming makes them easy to find all year at the seafood counter of specialty grocers and fish markets.
Roasting a fish whole intimidated me for about a minute. Buying a fillet seemed far easier. But I was wrong. It know now why its so popular. It’s easy. And delicious. Really delicious. Stuffed with fresh herb sprigs, lemon slices, shallots, and wrapped with kitchen twine to hold everything together. Oven roasted fish gets a bad rap for being dry, and typically its a pretty spot on assessment. But, I’m campaigning to change that. This method for oven roasted whole fish is the most simple way to yield a consistent, moist result.
But, I have a secret weapon. Its called a salt crust. Two ingredients: kosher salt and egg whites. The salt crust locks in the moisture without making the flesh of the fish salty. This magic paste is the secret to moist whole roasted branzini every dang time.
- Mix salt and egg whites to form paste
- Enclose stuffed and tied fish in salt paste
- Roast for 20 minutes
- Remove salt crust
- Transfer branzini to serving platter!
A super simple fresh mint-basil relish balances the richness of the fish. The red wine vinegar and lemon juice in the relish add a pleasantly bright burst of acidity. It’s also delicious with the rosemary roasted fennel and potatoes.
Some entrees are tasty but ugly. Some are pretty but not all that tasty. Whole roasted branzini has the best of both: incredibly delicious flavors and impressive presentation! Want to really wow your Valentine? I have to pinch myself every time I make this dish. I still can’t believe it only takes a few minutes to make something this tasty and beautiful!
Don’t miss the complete 3-course menu!
- Rosemary Roasted Fennel and Red Potatoes
- Whole Roasted Branzino with Mint Basil Relish
Remember! If you make all or a component of this menu (Or, the Middle Eastern Inspired Valentine’s Menu!), you can be entered to win a Valentine’s themed surprise from a local Seattle artist! Just post a pic of the dish to Instagram and tag @almostproperly! I can’t wait to see what you make!
- 2 - 1-2 lb. whole branzino, guts removed (You can ask the seafood counter folks to do this for you.)
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 2 fresh mint sprigs
- 1/2 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- kitchen twine
- 2-3 egg whites
- 1 lb. kosher salt (approximate is fine; about 1/3 of 3 lb. box)
- 1/4 red onion, cut into 2" pieces
- 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 c. cilantro
- 1/4 c. fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 c. fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
To make the mint-basil relish, pulse onion and garlic in food processor until coarsely chopped. Add basil, mint, cilantro, salt, sugar, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar. Pulse until finely chopped. Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil and pulse until the texture of a relish forms (similar to the texture of a thin salsa). Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Arrange oven racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
To assemble the branzini, season inside of cleaned branzini with salt. Arrange slices of lemon, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 sprig of mint, and thin slices of shallots inside each fish. Secure by wrapping fish with kitchen twine. If making all 3 courses of the menu, I recommend prepping the fish for the oven after placing the fennel and potatoes in the oven, since the veggies take longer to roast. (Alternately, the stuffing and wrapping the fish with twine can be completed up to 2 hours ahead if wrapped and refrigerated.)
In a small bowl, combine about 1 lb. of salt with enough egg white to form a paste. For me, this was about 3 large egg whites. Spread a thin layer of this paste on the parchment paper lining the baking sheet. You only need to cover the surface area where the fish will lay. This should be about 1/2 of the salt paste. Then place fish on top and arrange a remaining salt paste over the top of the fish in a thin layer. You want to cover the entire surface area of fish because the paste forms a crust and locks in both flavor and moisture.
Transfer baking sheet to the oven and roast for about 20 minutes.* Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5-7 minutes before removing the salt crust. Use your hands and dull knife to peel away the salt crust. It should come off very easily and often in large sections. Discard salt crust. Remove the twine and try to remove as many additional bits of the salt crust as possible from the fish. Transfer fish to serving platter. I like to serve it on a large baking sheet along side the rosemary roasted fennel and red potatoes from this menu.
To serve fish, remove the lemons, shallots, and herb sprigs. Carefully peel away skin which should be somewhat crisped from the salt crust and therefore should easily separate from the flaky, white flesh. Remove spine and pin bones, from fish. Depending on the size of the fish, one fish will serve 1-2 adults. But, this recipe is such a consistent hit, we usually go for it and allot 1 fish per person regardless.
*If you are making the rosemary roasted fennel and red potatoes, roast the vegetables on the bottom rack and the fish on the top rack.
Total time includes allowing fish to rest after roasting.