Herb-Stuffed Grilled Branzino
Buy the freshest fish you can find, have the fishmonger clean and butterfly it, while leaving the head and tail intact. (If he doesn’t understand what you mean, find another fishmonger).
2 small Branzino, butterflied, skin, head, and tail intact
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinking
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh parsley
handful fennel fronds, from the top of a fresh fennel bulb (optional, but worth it)
4 slices fresh lemon (preferably Meyer lemon, if you can find it)
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Open the fish so that they lay flat, skin-side down. Sprinkle each with about half a teaspoon of salt. Place half the herbs on one flesh side of each fish, and top each with two slices of fresh lemon. Close them up, tucking in any escaping herbs.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (if using a charcoal grill, build your fire before step 1).
3. Using cotton kitchen twine, tie a loop around the tail of each fish, and make a knot. Wrap the twine, width-wise, all the way around the rest of the fish, and tie it off near the head. Repeat with the other fish. Drizzle the fish on both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit more sea salt. Let rest for five minutes.
4. Brush the grill lightly with oil, and place the fish over direct heat. Roast for about seven minutes, and carefully flip (the skin should release from the grill grates; if it doesn’t, use a flexible, sturdy spatula to gently dislodge it). Remove the fish to a platter, drape it loosely with foil, and let it rest for five minutes before filleting and serving.
Salt-Baked Branzino for Two
There is, perhaps, no surer way to roast any firm-fleshed fish to silky succulence than to pack it in a hefty dome of salt, which functions as a sort of secondary oven guarding the fish against the harshness of direct heat. The result is moist, flavorful, sweet, fragrant, and decidedly un-salty. If you find this dish or a version of it on a New York menu, eat it now. Because it may become a thing of the past.
2 pounds kosher salt
3 egg whites
Sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano, or rosemary
1 Bay leaf
1 whole Branzino or Dorade, cleaned and de-scaled, about 1-1/2 pounds
good quality extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the salt in a bowl together with the egg whites, and combine thoroughly.
2. Spread a thin layer of salt onto a jelly-roll pan, cover it with sprigs of herbs and the bay leaf, and then set down the whole fish on the herbs. Pack the remaining salt over and around the fish, encasing it like you were burying your feet on a sandy beach.
3. Roast the fish for 30 minutes, remove from the oven, and, using the back of a spoon, crack open the baked salt dome and discard it. Remove any excess salt (there shouldn’t be much) from the fish using a pastry brush. Peel away the top layer of skin from the fish, and carefully remove the top fillet to a warm plate. Turn over and repeat. Serve with lemon wedges.