Let’s all gather ’round the whole roasted branzino! Holiday season should be about being together and enjoying spectacular food, not worrying about who can’t/won’t eat what. New York Times best-selling cookbook author Danielle Walker brings her signature style of everyone-friendly cuisine to the feast season with Against All Grain Celebrations.
Italian Christmas celebrations, or at least the Italian-American Christmas Eve I grew up with, always includes a fish entrée in addition to the beef or poultry. My grandmother makes salmon because it is her favorite, but I love to prepare a whole Mediterranean fish, like branzino. Its mild flavor and simple preparation even appeals to those who do not love fish. If you are serving only this dish as the main course, you may want to double the recipe.
Tidbits: Branzino has delicately flavored white flesh. Striped bass or red snapper would also be great prepared this way.
Ask your fishmonger to gut and clean the fish for you.
- 2 branzino (European sea bass), scaled and gutted with head and tail intact, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each
- fine sea salt
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 1 lemon, sliced into 4 rounds
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted ghee
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small fennel bulbs
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
For the branzino
Preheat an oven to 425°F.
Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, make slashes on both sides of the fish, cutting down to the bone. Season the branzino cavities with salt and stuff each cavity with 2 rosemary sprigs and 2 lemon pieces. In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Rub the mixture all over the outside of the fish.
Remove the stems and feathery fronds from the fennel bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. Toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the tomatoes, and the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a roasting pan in a thin layer. Place the fish on top.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the flesh is opaque when cut near the bone and the fennel and tomatoes are tender.
Transfer the fish to a warmed platter and scatter the fennel and tomatoes around the dish. Spoon the pan juices over the top of the fish and serve.