How to Make Portuguese Grilled Branzino

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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. 

We’ve had some really fantastic food around the world, but one of the meals I will always remember was in Porto, Portugal, on the waterfront in Matosinho. We had a whole grilled branzino at a waterfront seafood restaurant that was the stuff of magic.

grilled branzino
Whole grilled branzino

You pick your fresh seafood or fish that is on display, and then have them grill it up at their outdoor grilled station with some salt and olive oil. It was so simple, yet so delicious. I remember wanting to know how to make grilled branzino like that at home, so I could have it anytime I wanted.

It didn’t take me long to do just that. It’s not difficult to make this wonderful branzino at home. You can cook it on the grill, or on the stove top. It’s very versatile.

Also try this Portuguese dish: Bacalhau à Minhota

grilled branzino in Portugal

What is Portuguese Grilled 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. You can have your fish monger or grocery fish counter scale the fish and remove the bones and head, if you like.

For me, that makes the process of cooking it at home a lot more convenient and easy, which I prefer. But it’s really up to you. Another great aspect of Branzino is how healthy it is. If you’re on a low-carb diet, it’s perfect.

Do some vacation dreaming: What to Eat & Drink in Porto, Portugal

branzino cleaned
Grilled Branzino

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.

How to Make Grilled 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. 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.

Prepare the fish by seasoning and stuffing with lemon and rosemary.
Prepare the fish by seasoning and stuffing with lemon and rosemary.

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 cooking inside, add fish to a pre-heated pan on high heat.
If cooking inside, add fish to a pre-heated pan on high heat.

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.

pan fried branzino
Cooking over high heat allows the skin to crisp up so it can be eaten and enjoyed.

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 also be great. In Portugal, our grilled sea bass was served with a side of potatoes and braised greens with a wedge of lemon. Perfecto!

Pairing Grilled Branzino with Wine

white wines for pairing with branzino

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 Vinho Verde that comes from the nearby Minho region of Portugal, between Porto and the Douro Valley.

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.

Other Recipes to Try

Lemon-Stuffed Grilled Branzino
Yield: 4 servings

Lemon-Stuffed Grilled Branzino

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes

Branzino is a delectable light, mild-flavored fish that is perfect when grilled whole, with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper.


  • 4 whole branzini (small)—scaled and cleaned, bones remaining
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Tools We Use

[amazon box=”B00006JSUA”]Lodge 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned Skillet[/amazon][amazon box=”B000QCNJ3C”]Victorinox Swiss Army Cutlery Fibrox Pro Boning Knife, Flexible Blade, 6-Inch, Black[/amazon][amazon box=”B0009RMB2E”]Tackle Factory Big Norm-Feets 88111 Magic Fish Scaler, White[/amazon][amazon box=”B0044B6ZBO”]Partanna Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 34-Ounce[/amazon]
How to Make Portuguese Grilled Branzino

24 thoughts on “How to Make Portuguese Grilled Branzino

  1. Rob Taylor says:

    Ooh, branzino is one of my favorite dishes. Tulio Ristorante in Seattle used to serve the BEST branzino ever. I don’t know if they still do, but OMG good.

  2. Giulia Blocal says:

    My first travel souvenir is always a cooking book, I love to recreate the taste of a journey in my kitchen (well, sort of… I just try to!). Your recipe, instead, looks pretty faithful, you are a good cooker! One question, though: speaking of Portugal, why haven’t you cook the cod?

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Giulia. We did bacalhau (salt cod) from Portugal a few months ago. Check the archive link and you’ll find it there!

  3. Claudia says:

    We have a fantastic recipe for Branzino here in Sardinia. Take the whole fish, gut it and wash it properly. Pass it in flour and then put it in baking tray where you pour some vernaccia wine (a Sardinian white wine), black olives and olive oil. Salt as required and cook in the oven for around 25 minutes, depending on how big the fish is. Simple and delicious.

  4. melody pittman says:

    Oh the lemon stuffed Branzino looks so delicious! We like to wrap our fish in a banana leaf and grill when we are visiting Panama. Thanks for including the recipe, makes it much easier for cooking enthusiasts like myself. 😉

  5. Courtney Jones says:

    The Branzino looks amazing and love that you’ve included suggested wine pairings as well – so practical!

  6. Karilyn says:

    wow this looks amazing! the only meat i eat is fish and i am always looking for new ways to prepare it. I have to say I have never gotten a fresh fish like this at the market. you have inspired me.. I am going to see if I can repeat this!

  7. Mary says:

    What a great idea for a post. I love wine and always wonder what a good pairing is. I don’t really eat fish or drink white wine but this all looks amazing! Any ideas on best pairing for a filet mignon?? Red only:)

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Mary. Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most likely pairing for a steak. You need something dry and less fruity. I like to pair Rioja with filet, but that might be just because I love Rioja!

  8. Gemma says:

    These look DELICIOUS. Craig won’t eat fish, totally his loss! Thank you for teaming up with wine, I am useless at that (just pick wine by the colour of the label, oops!) Great post.

  9. Alli says:

    I love fish and i love wine! It looks just delicious! I want to replicate this entire post and do it on my own! 🙂

  10. Valter says:

    That does not look good – it looks DELICIOUS! The idea of cooking over coal, is awesome. I love the choice of the Giesen, it would pair beautifully with Branzino! How much I miss NZ wine – the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, in my very humble opinion. If you get a chance, make sure to try a St. Michael Eppan – either the Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and/or the Muller Thurgau. I think they too would pair beautifully with this delicate dish!

  11. Dariece says:

    My mouth is watering, this is such a tease! It looks and sounds so incredible–we’ll definitely be trying this one night soon. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  12. Vicky and Buddy says:

    I’ve never had branzino, but it looks pretty tasty. The recipe is very simple too, which I love. I’ll definitely be choosing branzino over salmon next time I’m at the grocery store.

  13. Phillius Thomas says:

    These fish look oh so tasty. I hadn’t heard of cooking a fish with lemon chunks inside of it, but I am more than willing to try it out. Thank you for sharing your seafood recipes, as well as pairing it with a nice wine! Next time I go to the store, I know what I am buying.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Try it with the lemon, Phillius. It’s not overpowering, just adds a fresheness to the fish. It’s lovely.

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