Sometimes it's hard to know what kind of seafood is safe to eat, with concerns about mercury and other contaminants as well as environmental sustainability, not to mention picking a fish that's delicious and easy to cook. Fortunately, barramundi is a fish that checks all the boxes. The white meat fish and can be prepared with a wide range of cooking methods.
What Is Barramundi?
Barramundi, also known as Asian sea bass, is a white-fleshed fish with a sweet, mild flavor and firm texture, similar to snapper, grouper, striped bass, and sole. It's native to the Indo-Pacific region of the ocean and is fished in the regions between India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The word barramundi comes from the Australian Aboriginal language, where it translates to "large-scaled river fish."
Part of its life cycle is spent in rivers and estuaries, so barramundi can live in freshwater as well as saltwater. This means that farmed barramundi can be grown in ponds, open-net pens, cages, and freshwater tanks which can be located anywhere. Some farmed barramundi are grown in Iowa, more than 1,000 miles from any ocean. It is often served whole but can also be filleted.
How to Cook Barramundi
Barramundi's medium fat content makes it easy to cook using a variety of cooking techniques, including grilling, roasting, broiling, sautéeing, baking, steaming, and frying. Although larger fish can sometimes be cut into steaks, barramundi is mostly sold whole and in fillets, both with the skin on and with the skin removed.
One of the best ways to prepare barramundi is to pan fry it, with the skin on, because the skin is thin and crisps up nicely. Begin by patting the fillets dry with a paper towel; this helps ensure crispy skin. Make a series of shallow cuts in the skin with a sharp knife, not deep enough to penetrate to the flesh. Scoring the skin this way helps your seasonings to penetrate and prevents the skin from shrinking and pulling the fillet out of shape while it cooks. Season both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat some oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat, and, once hot, place the fillet skin-side down in the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the skin is golden brown, then gently flip and cook on the other side for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the fillets from the heat and let them rest for a minute before serving.
Because of its medium fat content, it also cooks well on the grill and is extremely forgiving of extreme heat, and thus fairly difficult to overcook.
What Does Barramundi Taste Like?
Barramundi has a silky, buttery, rich, sweet flavor. It has white, medium-firm flesh. It is similar in flavor and texture to sea bass, snapper, and sole.
Barramundi is great for grilling, roasting, pan-frying, and deep-frying. You can substitute barramundi in any of the fish recipes below:
- Easy Thai Grilled Fish Fillets
- Sauteed Bass with Herb Butter
- Baked Red Snapper with Garlic and Herbs
Where to Buy Barramundi
While it's possible to find fresh barramundi in grocery stores and seafood markets, for the most part you're going to find it frozen. That's generally a good thing, since barramundi fillets are often flash-frozen within hours of being alive, which, when done properly, captures the freshness and preserves. That makes it far superior to its so-called "fresh" counterpart, which simply means it has never been frozen or it has been thawed, but which can also mean it has been stored in refrigeration for as long as two weeks before you bring it home.
Barramundi is available by the pound in the frozen sections of supermarkets, some seafood markets, specialty grocery stores, and it can even be purchased online. Look for barramundi that is frozen immediately upon being caught and is kept fully frozen. If buying fresh, look for fish that was caught in the last few days and kept sufficiently cold. The flesh should be bright white.
Store frozen barramundi in the freezer and keep completely frozen until ready to use, up to three months. Let defrost overnight in the fridge and then cook and serve immediately. Fresh barramundi should be used as soon as possible after purchasing for the best results.
One of the things that makes barramundi so desirable is its sustainability. Part of this is due to the fact that farmed barramundi consume a mostly vegetarian diet, so that it takes only half a pound of fish meal to produce a pound of barramundi. By comparison, it takes three pounds of fish-based feed to produce a pound of farmed salmon. In the wild, the ratio is around 10 to 1.
Since farmed barramundi don't eat other fish, barramundi is largely free from mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. And because they are a hardy species not prone to disease, they can be raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.