Branzino is a mild white fish popular in Italian cuisine and usually roasted whole and served with lemon. Also called European bass, the fish has been showing up on menus around the country and world as chefs and diners enjoy branzino's sweet, flaky meat.
What is Branzino?
Branzino is a white ocean fish that thrives in the Mediterranean Sea, though over the years the population has declined due to over fishing. Fisheries across its native region have taken to farm-raising branzino to help prevent overfishing.
Branzino has many names, from capemouth and sea perch to loup de mer and "king of the mullets," though most of the time it's called branzino or European sea bass. Outside its native Mediterranean Sea, branzino can be found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from Norway to Senegal, as well as the Black Sea. Since it's a migratory species, branzino travel south for the winter into warmer waters. This night-hunting fish grows up to three pounds, though most of the branzino you'll see on the plate is closer to one or two pounds — making it a perfect dish for two.
How To Cook Branzino
Because branzino is on the smaller side and doesn't have large bones, it's a great fish to eat and cook whole by grilling, steaming, or baking. Stuff the cavity with lemons and fresh herbs, and let it bake at 325F for about 25 minutes, then let it rest for another 5 minutes before serving on a platter garnished with citrus slices and more fresh herbs.
If steaming, season the fish with plenty of freshly squeezed lemon juice and herbs or a dry rub. Cooked fish can also be flaked into a dish before efor serving. Since it flakes into small chunks, branzino is a great fish to use in casseroles, stews, pasta, and other one-pot meals.
What Does Branzino Taste Like?
Branzino is light and flaky with a mildly sweet flavor not unlike sea bass or halibut. The mildness helps impart the ingredients you mix with it, whether it's Southeast asian ingredients like lemongrass and chilis, or a classic Mediterranean preparation with fennel and tomatoes.
Branzino Vs. Chilean Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass isn't a bass at all, it's a Patagonian toothfish. Branzino on the other hand is, is in fact a member of the Moronidae family, also called "temperate basses." Where branzino proves light and sweet with the ability to soak in flavors, Chilean sea bass has a more meaty texture and pronounced buttery flavor. When it comes to substitutions, these two aren't comparable in either flavor or texture — one is thick and substantial, and the other is lighter and can be served whole.
Branzino can be easily substitute it for most other fish, especially if the recipe calls for a light, flaky white fish.
Where to Buy Branzino
You may find branzino under the name European bass. It's farmed in various regions around the world, including New England. You can also buy wild-caught branzino, though due to overfishing it's becoming harder to find. Many local fish shops carry whole branzino, and you may also see it in larger groceries that sell fresh fish. It's rare to find frozen branzino.
All fish should be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen tightly wrapped in plastic for maximum freshness. Bring the fish out a few hours ahead of cooking time to defrost, or let it thaw in the fridge overnight.
Branzino is one of six species from the family Moronidae, which also includes white perch, yellow bass, white bass, and striped bass. Some of these fish live in fresh water, others in the Atlantic Ocean and one species migrates between the two. All varieties of temperate basses are thought of as game fish and have similar flavors and textures.