Salt Baked Branzino is the perfect dish to impress your guests but does not require a ton of time or technique to accomplish! Just pack with the salt mix and it steams to perfection and you can fillet it right at the table!
What is Branzino?
The Branzino, or European Bass, is the Italian name given to a type of sea bass that is such a versatile, great-tasting, white, flaky fish. This fish is typically found in the Mediterranean and is a very common dish across Europe, especially the Southern Coasts.
Why should I Salt Bake Branzino?
There are many ways to cook Branzino. It deserves to be cooked well.
Sure, you can sauté it, or poach it. But why not stuff the whole fish with citrus and herbs, encase it in a tomb of salt, bake it until the salt is rock-hard and then break open a salt dome and fillet the fish at the table? Sounds great, huh? Well, it is, and not nearly as complicated as you might think.
We’ve had it a few times and each time we do, the Salt Baked Branzino has been perfect. Salty? Nope. Just flavorful and silky.
The secret is that the fish is steaming inside the salt, but without water – just the juices of the fish itself! The texture and taste of the fish (along with the stunning presentation and general "cool-factor" of the technique) will have you cooking this more than once.
For the salt, we recommend using course Kosher Salt for the best effect. You want to also make sure you place the fish on a Sheet Pan that is large enough so that the sea bass can lay flat fully inside the pan.
What if I can't find fresh Branzino?
If you can’t find Branzino/sea bass that is fresh (very critical) and looks good, you can certainly replace it with snapper, and get a similar effect and taste.
One way to determine if the fish is fairly fresh is to look at its eyes. If the eyes are bulging, shiny, and they look as though the fish is still alive, chances are this is a fresh fish. If the eyes appear grayish, dry, sunken in, or have a slimy layer, do not buy this fish. Additionally, fresh fish should not have a fishy smell. They should smell slightly like the sea, but should not be repulsive.
What should I stuff inside the Salt Baked Branzino?
If you caught this fish this morning and plan to bake it tonight, we would tell you to put nothing inside. NOTHING! Yes, really! The flavor of this fish is so nice, that you don't need to mask it with herbs and spices. BUT, if you are unsure how fresh your fish is, or if you want a bit of extra aromatics, you can stuff the fish cavity with just about anything you want.
We prefer to stuff our Salt Baked Branzino with lemon and thyme, rosemary and tarragon, or just lemon. But fennel, limes, cilantro or grapefruit all seem like they would work really well. The end result is that the fish barely takes these flavors on and it is more of an aromatic addition than anything else. However, stuffing the fish will help it cook properly as you are keeping the fish in its natural shape.
How to Eat Branzino
Once the Branzino has been roasted in its salt crust, prepping it to eat is actually quite easy! Simply use your serving spoon to crack away the salt dome.
Once all the salt has been removed, use a sharp knife to slice the fish through the skin at the end of the tail all the way to the bone. You can use your fingers, a knife, a spoon or a spatula to remove the skin from the tail toward the head. The skin should come off very easily without any effort at this point exposing the fish fillets.
Next, slide the serving spoon along the spine toward the head of the fish where the fillet stops. Remove the fillet to a clean plate. Gently flip the fish over and repeat to remove the opposite fillet.
Does it need a sauce?
You can certainly serve this as-is without a sauce or anything else. The fish stands on its own so well using this cooking method with a little squirt of lemon. But the addition of a Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce works tremendously, so we included instructions for this in the recipe below. Think of any sauce that goes with fish and give it a try. You can’t go wrong.
If you are looking for other sauces for Branzino, here are some that will pair well with this fish:
- Lemon Caper Cream Sauce
- Mango Lime Cream Sauce
- Lemon Cream Sauce
- Calabrian Chili Butter Sauce
- Seasonal Citrus Salsa
Branzino Side Dishes
Now that you have dinner planned, let's check out some side dishes that go particularly well with this Branzino dish:
- Parmesan Herb Asparagus with Prosciutto and Pine Nuts
- Lemon Risotto
- Creamy Pesto Pasta
- Sheet Pan Chickpea and Vegetable Medley
Looking for another Branzino recipe?
We love salt baked Branzino so much that we included it in our recently published cookbook, Mangiamo! The recipe that you will find, along with 59 other delicious Italian, and Italian inspired dishes is for Salt Baked Branzino with Tarragon Tomato Cream Sauce and it is an absolute dream! We hope that you check it out!
We hope you enjoy this recipe! If you give it a try, leave us a comment below or tag us on Instagram @cooking_with_wine.
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