Whole branzino stuffed with herbs and lemon and grilled is a simple dish that tastes like more than the sum of its parts. Image source: Flickr CC user T.Tseng
One of my favorite winter traditions is getting out of the city with friends. We usually get together three or four couples, rent a cabin, and enjoy the simple things: company, wilderness, gorgeous snowy winter landscapes, and clean cold air. We also like to enjoy good dinners together, too--and we’re all huge fans of seafood.
For a seafood dinner we usually have two options: pack seafood and lug it all the way out to the cabin, or put ourselves at the mercy of the local supermarket, which doesn’t usually have a huge selection in rural towns. But recently we’ve been using online seafood delivery to have fresh seafood--including one of my favorites, branzino--delivered to our cabin.
Branzino, also known by its plural branzini, is a silver bass found in European seas and saltwater lakes, and it’s a great choice for a winter cabin getaway, because its firm consistency and subtle taste gives it versatility. You can prepare it grilled, roasted, poached, baked, steamed, or sautéed. This fish is usually sold whole, as well--perfect for grilling, and impressive-looking on your cabin table.
My friends and I stuck to recipes that didn’t involve any particularly unusual pieces of cookware or ingredients, which was important given the space we had in the car. We didn’t want to pack many large pots or pans. In fact, most of the cookware and ingredients we used were at the cabin already or small enough to bring. I’d recommend bringing your own ingredients, which will save you from a trip to the local grocery store and leave even more time for enjoying the outdoors.
Lemon-Stuffed Grilled Branzino
On the ideal winter trip, the weather is crisp, but not so freezing that you can’t comfortably spend time outside. But since it is winter, and this recipe requires time outside with the grill, choose a mild day to make this recipe, and try to make it while the sun’s still up to keep things comfortable. A great thing about branzino is that it has an wonderful rich flavor that is most evident when the fish is at its freshest and is enhanced by a simple, traditional treatment like grilling.
For a group of four to six, I suggest getting four 1-pound whole branzini. Before lighting the grill, rinse the fish. Then salt and pepper the fish inside and out, and stuff the following ingredients in the fishes’ cavities:
Grill over high heat, turning the fish once and cooking until browned and crisped, about 7 minutes per side. Garnish with lemon wedges and finely chopped parsley.
Packing for This Dish: Everything for this dish can go in a small sack or paper bag. Since you’re having the fish delivered, you only really need to reserve space for a pair of lemons and the herbs and spices (salt and pepper should be at the cabin).
Salt-Baked Branzino with Zucchini Pistou
Winter weather can, of course, be cold--sometimes too cold. Cooking a dish in the oven is a great way to stay cozy and warm up a cabin’s interior. And since branzino is delivered as a whole fish, it means you can cook it in a salt crust, which is a fun cooking method if you’ve never tried it before, and an excellent way to keep your fish moist.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and start mixing the following ingredients in a large bowl:
Spread a ½-inch thick layer of salt mix in an oval-shaped baking dish large enough to hold two whole branzini (your fish will come head-on but you may need to remove the heads to fit them into the dish--the tails can be trimmed to help with this, too). Pat the mix down, then place the fish belly-to-belly on top. Pack the remaining mixture around and on top, covering the fish completely. Poke holes in the crust where the fish is thickest. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. When completed, insert a thermometer in a hole in the crust. It should read 135 degrees. Let fish rest for 10 minutes before serving.
While the fish is cooking, have one of your cabin-mates help with the zucchini pistou. Start by gathering these ingredients:
Heat the olive oil on medium heat, and saute the garlic for a minute. Add the zucchini and cook until soft. Add the basil and cook for 30 seconds, then remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and salt.
When the fish has cooled for 10 minutes, use a serrated knife to cut around the base of the salt mound before carefully removing the top of the crust. Remove the skin, fillet the fish, and transfer to plates. Spoon the zucchini pistou around the fish.
Packing for This Dish: Two reusable or paper shopping bags. The zucchini, basil, garlic, lemon, and a carton of eggs fit in one bag, while the large oval baking dish and food thermometer fit in the other. Your cabin should have the olive oil and knives.
While branzino is the perfect exotic whole fish to cook for a vacation getaway, it can be hard to find in supermarkets (not to mention difficult to transport). Ordering branzino online from Daily Fresh Fish gives you one less thing to think about, and it means fresher fish, since the fish goes from our dock to your door, with no sitting in a seafood case. And when it comes to choosing seafood, you need to be conscious of how the seafood you’re choosing was sourced. When you order from Daily Fresh Fish you can be confident that your fish was responsibly farmed or caught.