Branzini are an easy and elegant fish to grill or bake whole. Image source: Flickr CC user cookbookman17
I love to entertain, and guests are always curious and impressed when I break out a fish they’ve never tried. Turns out mixing it up will not only make for happy dinner party guests, but it does greater good for the ocean, where playing favorites with a few fish puts them at risk for overfishing.
We’ll start with the amazing branzini!
Americans love seafood. Or to be more precise, Americans love a few kinds of seafood—namely shrimp, canned tuna, and salmon. Shrimp are the most consumed seafood in America; we tuck away about four pounds a year per capita. All told, these three species make up more than half of the seafood we eat.
But guess what? There are more fish in the sea and a lot of them are quite delicious.
If you’re a seafood lover, like me, it’s worth branching out and giving the super-popular fishes a break.
While fishery regulators enact policies to promote healthy fish populations, consumers have the most power. If we could diversify the fish we eat it would take enormous pressure off those top three species, create more economic opportunity for fishermen, and open the door to some great meals.
The Amazing Branzini
One of my favorite, most versatile fish is the branzino. Only most of what’s available doesn’t come from the sea at all. It’s farmed in environmentally sound aquaculture operations that takes further pressure off wild species. While aquaculture operations are state of the art now, fish has been farmed for centuries. As Paul Greenberg writes in Four Fish, the “farming” process was a complicated and unique one, that “involved the efforts of ancient Roman fishermen, modern Italian poachers, French and Dutch nutritionists, a Greek marine biologist turned entrepreneur and an Israeli endocrinologist.”
The branzino (the plural of branzini), sometimes called European sea bass, spigola or loup de mer (“wolf of the sea”), is native to the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. It’s a mild, meaty white-fleshed fish that’s high in protein and great grilled or baked whole. It lends itself particularly well to Mediterranean cuisine: you can’t go wrong cooking branzini with lots of olive oil, garlic, rosemary or thyme, and tomatoes.
I like them grilled whole over an open fire stuffed with a sprig of rosemary, slices of lemons and a scattering of chopped garlic and kalamata olives. If you order online from a good supplier, your branzino will arrive cleaned with the head on. Simply slip the herbs, lemon, garlic and olives and a little salt and pepper and drizzle of olive oil inside the fish (see the photo above) and lay it on a hot, well-oiled grill. You could also do the same thing in the oven: add a big splash of white wine before wrapping the fish in oiled aluminum foil and popping it in the oven (30-45 minutes at 350° should do the trick). Served on a big platter, these fish make a great impression and, in my experience, are always a hit at large gatherings.
The best source for branzino is farmed. The fish we sell comes from aquaculture operations that use closed, recirculating tanks. These tanks have less effluent and few escapes in the wild, factors that make some fish farming operations less sustainable. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Watch program gives farmed branzino one of its highest ratings for sustainable seafood. As a less popular fish—but no less delicious—branzino can be hard to find in retail markets, which is yet another reason to order your fish online. And if you order from us before 2pm, you’ll get your fish the next day, faster, fresher, and more convenient that the supermarket.