Grilled Branzino with Lemon Balm

Grilled branzino is a popular seafood plate in Europe during the summer months. It is commonly referred as Mediterranean seabass or European seabass. The name branzino is most commonly found in menus in the US, but is only used northern Italy. Still, it has several other names depending on the country:

  • Italy: branzino or spigola
  • Spain: lubina or róbalo (Catalonia: llobarro)
  • France: loup de mer
  • Greece: lavraki
  • Portugal: robalo
  • Turkey: levrek

Branzino has a mild, salty flavor and full, meaty consistency. It is a great choice for people that are not used to eating fish regulatory given that it has less of fishy taste and smell. Despite these characteristics it a favorite with fish lovers and considered a delicacy in many countries.

How to buy the best branzino

The most important factor that will affect the quality of this dish is the freshness of the fish. It is always preferable to buy the entire fish, which is what you will need for this recipe. If you don’t live close to the water it can be a challenge to find fresh fish. Even those who live on the coast don’t realise that in many cases the “fresh” fish at the local market has been previously frozen. Fish sold as fresh can be anywhere from one day to two weeks out of the water.

Large fishing vessels may stay at sea for two weeks, keeping their catch on ice to sell fresh. Even locally caught fish may take days traveling from boat to truck to wholesaler to retailer to your kitchen. For top quality product look for the label “Frozen-at-Sea” (FAS). It applies to fish that has been flash-frozen at extremely low temperatures in as little as three seconds onboard the ship.

 

When shopping pay attention to the following aspects:

  • Step 1: Search for a fish with shiny skin and clear eyes
  • Step 2: Flesh should spring back when pressed and feel firm. Tail fin should be moist and flat
  • Step 3: Saltwater fish, such as branzino smell briny when fresh

Branzino is farm-raised in many European countries, but it is also commonly wild-caught. In the US the Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires all fish to carry a label stating if it is wild-caught or farm-raised and its country of origin.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 small white onion, chopped in ring
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh lemon balm plus 4 sprigs for stuffing
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 2 whole branzino (Mediterranean seabass), descaled
  • 1 lime, thinly sliced

Preparation (under 30 min.)

  • Prepare grill for medium-high heat.
  • Generously salt the fish skin and inside.
  • Place the onion rings, lime slices and lemon balm sprigs inside the fish.
  • Drizzle the fish with olive oil and place it on the grill.
  • Mix lime juice with olive oil to create an emulsion.
  • Fish should take 5-7 minutes on each side.
  • Drizzle lime-oil emulsion and sprinkle with the chopped lemon balm before serving.

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