Salt Baked Branzino

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Salt Baked whole Branzino fish
Salt Baked Whole Branzino (Sea Bass)

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.

Salt Roasted Branzino
Salt Roasted Branzino
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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.

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. 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:

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!

Salt Baked Sea Bass
Salt Baked Branzino

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.

Looking for more recipes like this? Check these out:

Salt Baked Branzino

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Angela and Mark Course: MainCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Medium
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

20

minutes
Total time

35

minutes

Salt Baked Branzino is the perfect dish to impress your guests but does not require a ton of time or technique to accomplish!

Ingredients

  • 1 whole branzino (2-3 lbs) scaled and cleaned

  • 3 cups Kosher salt

  • 2 tbs dried thyme leaves

  • 3 3 egg whites

  • 1 lemon, sliced

  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary

  • Lemon Beurre Blanc
  • ½ cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio work well)

  • 6 black peppercorns

  • 1 small shallot, chopped

  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

  • 8 tbs (1/4lb) cold unsalted butter – cut in 8-10 pieces

Directions

  • PREPARE THE PAN AND SALT
  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • In a large roasting pan or sheet pan (larger than the fish) line with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix the salt, dried thyme and egg whites with your hands. It should be the consistency of a chunky paste. It won’t be too wet and that is perfect. Set aside.
  • PREPARE THE FISH
  • Remove the fish from the refrigerator and, if it hasn’t been done at the market, scale the fish. Gut the fish (again, preferably done at the market) and remove the gills with kitchen shears. We recommend requesting this at the market before buying to make your life easier.
  • Cut the dorsal and pectoral fins and any other that is spiny or might stab you when you are ready to eat.
  • Stuff the fish cavity with the lemon slices, tarragon and rosemary. Place the fish on the parchment lined sheet pan.
  • CRUST THE FISH
  • Put the salt mixture on the fish and press it down forming a seal that is about ¼ inch thick around the entire fish. There should be no gaps or cracks and the fish should not be visible.
  • ROAST THE FISH
  • Put the fish in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Some of the salt mixture may turn a light brown and the salt dome will be quite hard when finished.
  • Prepare the Sauce
  • While the fish roasts, prepare the sauce. Combine the wine, peppercorns and shallot in a small sauce pan over medium. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the liquid by half.
  • Once the liquid has reduced by half, strain the solids through a sieve and return the strained sauce to the pan. Add the lemon juice and reduce to about 2 tablespoons of liquid. Once reduced, keep warm on low until your fish is ready.
  • Once your fish is ready and removed from the oven, set it aside while you finish the sauce.
  • To finish the sauce, remove the pan from the heat completely and let cool for a minute or two. You do not want the pan to be hot, but only warm so the sauce doesn’t break. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time, emulsifying the mixture. If your butter isn’t easily melting, you may need to return the pan to the burner (on low) briefly for about 30 seconds, but don’t let your sauce get too hot during this process.
  • Once all the butter has been incorporated, you are ready to plate your dish.
  • SERVE
  • To serve the fish, use a serving spoon to crack the salt dome and remove it from the fish. You want to have enough room to remove the fillets from the Branzino. With a sharp knife, slice the fish through 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.
  • Using the spoon, slide the spoon along the spine toward the head of the fish where the fillet stops. Remove to a clean plate. Gently flip the fish over and repeat to remove the opposite fillet. Serve with the lemon beurre blanc drizzled over the top with extra on the side as desired.

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