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Whole Roasted Branzino with Lemon Caper Sauce




Branzino, or Mediterranean Sea Bass, is such a popular fish in Italian restaurants and for good reason.  It's a mild, firm delicious fish with hardly any small bones.  So why not make it at home?  If you are afraid of overcooking fish, roasting the fish whole is the way to go - leaving the skin on and the head intact helps keep the fish moist and adds to the flavor.  Branzino can be found more easily now in good grocery stores, as it has gained such popularity.

It really is simple to roast a whole branzino this way.  The fish should be scaled and gutted when you buy it, so there is no prep for you to do when you get home. Simply season the cavity of the fish and stuff it with lemon and herbs.  Roast the fish in a fairly hot oven for about 15 minutes.

There are a few things to look for when selecting a whole fish, to make sure it is fresh.  Look at the eyes of the fish - they should look plump and moist, not sunken, cloudy or dried.  The fish should look shiny and bright, not dull.



After the fish is cooked, deboning and serving a Branzino is really easy -  you cut away the top filet, exposing the spine. The entire spine will lift out easily by pulling on the tail toward the head.  And there are almost no small bones to deal with.  

I've made a quick little Lemon Caper Sauce to drizzle over the filets.  You can certainly just eat this fish as is, with no sauce.  It's a great fish and I hope you try it. 


buy the smallest capers you can find, packed in salt


Whole Roasted Branzino with Lemon Caper Sauce

for a printable recipe click here

Make the lemon caper sauce while the fish is in the oven, roasting.  

serves 2

1 whole Branzino (Mediterranean Sea Bass), about 1.5 pounds
1 large lemon, zested
2 teaspoons capers in salt
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons butter (if you don't want to use butter, you can use extra virgin olive oil)
1 Tablespoon minced red onion
¼ cup white wine
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
salt & pepper 



Preheat the oven to 400° F.   Rinse fish, inside and out.  Pat dry.  Make 3 slits with a very sharp knife in the sides of the fish, about a quarter inch deep.  Place the fish on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or foil.

Cut the zested lemon in half.  Juice one half and slice the other half into 3 slices. Rinse the salt from the capers.

Season the inside of the fish with some salt and pepper.  Stuff the cavity with the lemon slices and fresh thyme. Place the fish in the oven and roast for 12 minutes.  

While the fish is cooking, make the sauce:
In a small skillet, add the butter and onion.  Saute the onion gently until soft, about 4 - 5 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook for a few seconds, then add the lemon zest and the capers.  Cook on low for about 2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and parsley, shut off the heat and cover with a lid to keep the sauce warm and moist. 

Turn on broiler and broil the fish for about a minute and a half, til it crisps up a little. 


the blue lines are where you are going to cut the fish, so
the top filet can be removed from the fish,
exposing the spine.  Here are step by step photos:



cut along the backbone, down toward the head


 cut across the tail section, down the belly and then below the gills. 
This should allow the whole filet to be lifted up. 


 Gently lift the filet off the fish and place on a serving dish.  Now the
spine is exposed.


Lift the tail up and pull the spine away from the fish. The head will come off
along with the spine.  See if there are any large bones missing
from the spine. If there are, take them out of the filet. Place the
lower filet on the serving dish.


Debone the fish:
Place a serving platter next to the fish.  With a very sharp knife, cut alongside the backbone, across the tail, across the belly and below the gills.  With a spatula, remove the top fillet and place on the serving dish, skin down.  Grab the tail of the fish and pull up.  The spine will come away from the underside of the fish, along with the head.  If any bones are obviously missing from the spine, remove them from the fish. (Branzino doesn't have many small bones, so if you get the spine out with the large bones, that's what counts.)  Remove the top and bottom fins, if they are still attached.  Place the bottom fillet on the serving dish. 

Drizzle the lemon caper sauce over the fish and serve immediately. 

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Reader Comments (4)

This is such a tender fish. I once had it in Milan baked in a salt crust that the waiter split and opened at the table. Thanks for the detailed instructions on how to do it yourself. Grazie.

June 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I've always wanted to cook a whole fish but was just too timid to try it. Your photos make me feel like I can do it - and Branzino sounds like the fish to try. I'm going to give it a go! Thanks.

June 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSarah K..

This sounds delicious, I can't wait to try it. I never had bass.

June 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Fiorini

I also had the en Croute de Sel - it was wonderful and moist. Can't wait to try this recipe! I love fish but seem to make it the 'same old way' over and over. This looks fairly easy. Thanks for prodding me to venture out and try something different.

June 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah R.

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