Our Global Gourmet recipe series is designed to bring the foods we loved while traveling into our own kitchens and onto our own dinner tables. And since no meal is ever complete without a glass of wine to go with it, we’ve included wine, beer or spirit pairings as well.
The key to recreating International dishes at home is to start with an authentic recipe, adapt it to substitute ingredients you can’t find or don’t know how to work with, and simplify difficult techniques. Then it becomes more approachable and possible to make and enjoy at home.
This month’s Global Gourmet recipe is a dish we fell in love with while traveling in Portugal, though it is served around the world.
Portuguese Whole Branzino
Branzino is also known as European sea bass or Mediterranean sea bass. It’s a very universal fish, as it can be found all over Europe, in the Balkins and the United States. It’s a popular dish on many restaurant menus due to its firm, white, delicate-flavored flesh and few small bones. The fish ranges in size from one-and-a-half to three pounds and is very manageable to cook at home. It’s a prized fish in Italian, Spanish, and Greek cuisines and is often prepared grilled, roasted, poached, steamed, or braised whole.
My favorite way to prepare it is on an outdoor grill over coals with a little olive oil, salt and pepper to help crisp up the skin, and served whole . When we first had this fish, we were in Porto, Portugal, on the waterfront in Matosinho. There’s one street in Matosinho that is completely packed with seafood restaurants. Each has a make-shift grilling station set up outside their restaurant where they grill the fish to perfection. Take your pick of the fresh seafood that is on display and then have them grill it up with some salt and olive oil, and you have the best meal you can imagine.
Today’s recipe is a lemon-stuffed whole branzino that can be done on an outdoor grill or even indoors on the stovetop. If you don’t want to have a lingering fish smell in your house, I recommend an outdoor grill. This recipe is perfect for the holidays because you can make enough for the whole family, it’s impressive, delicious and light.
Pairing Whole Branzino with Wine
We all know that fish is best paired with white wine. Mild-flavored white fish with fillets that are usually thin, like Branzino, pair very well with crisp, refreshing whites like a Vihno Verde, Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino from Italy. Branzino can be overpowered by big, oaked whites like buttery Chardonnays or Viognier, but if you add a rich butter sauce to the fish, you could stretch the pairing to include a stainless steel Chardonnay.
For me, the best pairing for Branzino is a sparkling wine or Champagne. Washington State has a lot of really great sparkling wines that we don’t often get to pair with food, so when there’s an opportunity, I take it! You can also use Prosecco, Cava or any true French Champagne.
How to Make Whole Branzino
Making Branzino couldn’t be easier when you ask at the fish counter to have the fish cleaned and scaled for you. The biggest pain in cooking whole fish is having to debone and scale them yourself. You’ll likely end up with scales all over your kitchen. At some markets, you might have to pay a bit extra for this service, but believe me, it’s worth every penny. At Whole Foods, this service is included, but you have to ask for it (and be specific). For Branzino, or other whole fish, you don’t want the bones to be removed, because they are what keep the fish moist and add tremendous flavor. Once cooked, you can open the fish up and remove the bones, usually quite easily and in one piece.
Rinse your fish with cold water and pat them dry. In order for the skin to get crispy, it needs to be very dry. Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper, place a sprig of rosemary and two lemon slices inside and fold the fish shut. Brush on a bit of olive oil and season the outside with salt and pepper. Now you’re ready to begin grilling.
If you’re using an outdoor, make sure the grate is clean and lightly oiled (this will prevent the fish from sticking to the grate). Be sure to heat up the grill at 350-400 degrees for a good 20 minutes before placing the fish on the grate. Inside, make sure the pan is nice and hot before laying the fish into the pan. It will take only about 6 minutes per side to cook over high heat. To get amazing crispy skin, don’t move it around at all until it’s ready to be flipped, and only flip it once.
You can serve the Branzino with your choice of side. We recently served it to family with grilled Bok Choy. Brussels sprouts, a garden salad or a side of grilled potatoes would be great. In Portugal, our grilled sea bass was served with a side of potatoes and braised greens with a wedge of lemon. Perfecto!
(Note: The post contains affiliate links to wine.com, which just means that if you were to make a purchase through that link I would receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting Savored Journeys!)
Branzino is a delectable light, mild-flavored fish that is perfect when grilled whole, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Four whole branzini—scaled and cleaned, bones remaining
- Salt and pepper
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan.
- Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper. Stuff with two lemon slices and a sprig of rosemary. Brush the outside of the fish with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Grill the branzino over high heat for about 6 minutes per side (depending on the size), until browned and crisp. Only flip once during cooking. Serve while hot.