Branzino is a mild-flavored fish that goes by many names – Mediterranean seabass, European seabass, Branzini, Loup de mer (there are a few more) – and is native to the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. It ranges in size from about 1 to 3 pounds and it’s firm white flesh is favored in Italian, Spanish and Greek cuisines. It is extremely versatile and is perfect fish for grilling, roasting, steaming and braising whole. As an added bonus, Branzino is deemed a “Best Choice” fish by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list.
I first came to know branzino while working on a cooking show in San Francisco a few years ago and loved the adaptability of it’s mild flavor (which is great for non-fish eaters) plus, it’s firm flesh that stays moist without becoming watery and insipid. Branzino is one of my favorite fish for grilling and is best simply prepared so it’s flavor really shines. I lightly seasoned the cavity of the fish with sea salt and ground pepper, added a few aromatics, and rubbed the outside with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt so that the skin gets nice and crispy on the grill.
Keeping with branzino’s Mediterranean roots, a flavorful salsa verde seemed in order – the Italian/Spanish kind, not tomatillo (although, that would be delicious as well). The flavors of the parsley and capers with a little bit of acidity from red wine vinegar really enhance and compliment the flavor of the fish.
If you tend to shy away from grilling fish, then this is a great fish and recipe for success. Once it’s on the grill, it’s 7 minutes per side and the fish is beautifully cooked. Here a couple fish grilling pointers:
- Make sure that your grill grates are very clean; brush away any cooked on remnants with a stiff wire grill brush.
- To keep the fish from sticking, season the grates with a neutral oil before cooking.
- Preheat the grill for 15 minutes before cooking; make sure the grill is hot!
- Once the fish hits the grill, do not move it until it’s time to flip.
- DO NOT overcook your fish!
This is an easy to prepare and healthy recipe suitable for weeknights and perfect for a dinner party. Prep the fish and make the salsa verde ahead of time and then grill the fish just before serving. All-in time, including prep, is under 30-minutes!
Grilled Whole Sea Bass with Salsa Verde
For the fish:
4 branzino (about 1-pound each), heads and tails removed
Sea salt and ground pepper
8 springs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
8 lemon slices, plus wedges for serving
For the salsa verde:
1/2 cup parsley leaves, packed
2 tablespoon capers, rinsed
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Extras: Kitchen twine or toothpicks
Method: Direct heat grilling
Rinse fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and place 2 sprigs parsley, a sprig of thyme, and 2 slices of lemon in each. Secure the stuffing by tying a couple pieces of kitchen string around each fish or secure the cavity closed with toothpicks. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to grill.
For the salsa verde: add all ingredients, except the oil, to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until all the ingredients are finally chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Set up grill for direct heat cooking over high heat. Brush and oil the grates very well to prevent the fish from sticking to the grates. Remove the fish from the refrigerator and rub each with a little olive oil. Sprinkle the both sides of the fish with salt to aid in crisping the skin.
Place fish on the preheated grill and cook for 6 to 7 minutes per side. Remove the fish from the grill and cut away string or pull out toothpicks.
Serve immediately with salsa verde and lemon wedges for squeezing..
Cheers and Happy Grilling!