Sunday, April 28, 2013

Whole Branzino with Roasted Tomatoes

If I could dispel any food myth, it would be that cooking fish is more finicky than cooking chicken breast or steak. I think fish tends to get a bad rep as being 'bland' or difficult to properly cook, and much of that most certainly has to do with the often poor selection of fish at regular grocery stores. Can you relate to buying fish  from the store and it smelling -- well, fishy!

Fresh fish really shouldn't.

It should smell like the salty water it came from. My way around this is to first and foremost to always tell the manager of your local fish department if this happens they are aware of the issue. Forming a relationship with your fishmonger is not only a great way to ensure you'll get the best service, but also a great way to learn about new ways to prepare seafood.

In my home kitchen, I like preparing a whole fish every once and a while. It may seem daunting if you've never tried making this at home before, but I assure you, it's a completely doable task, even on a busy weeknight. When buying a whole fish, make sure the fish doesn't have cloudy eyes (that's the first sign that it isn't fresh) -- its eyes should be clear. The flesh of the fish should look healthy and plump and the fish should smell like the ocean. If you have a little bit of a trek to make with your fish before taking it home, make sure you ask for a bag of ice so the fish stays nice and cool. You can also ask your fishmonger to scale and gut the fish -- it saves on prep time and means the fish is ready to go. I like to simply bake a whole fish in the oven with a few simple herbs and lemon -- and in this case deliciously sweet roasted tomatoes!

You'll know the fish is ready when it falls off the bone, or, in other words, when it's easy to remove the spine. If the bones are sticking to the flesh, the fish needs a few more minutes in the oven, Once you do this a couple times, you'll quickly get used to the process and be able to tell if the fish is ready. Like so many things in cooking, practice really does make perfect. When the fish is cooked though, you can really easily peel off the skin (with a small pairing knife or by simply pulling it off). With the fish on its side, you can then slice along the backbone with a sharp fileting knife to free the fillet. Once the backbone is removed, the second fillet will almost come off on its own.

These roasted tomatoes might be the star of the show though -- as they bake, they become incredibly sweet and plump -- a real treat, especially when topped with a little fleur de sel. I serve the dish with crisp green beans with a drizzle of olive oil, but a simple salad would be lovely as well.

Whole Branzino with Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 2

1 1/2 lb whole branzino, gutted and scaled
1 lemon, sliced
About a dozen cherry tomatoes, on the vine
2 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
6 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Oil a large baking sheet or roasting pan. Season the fish all over with salt and pepper as well as inside the cavities. Stuff the cavity with a couple lemon slices, half of the thyme and the garlic. Arrange fish in baking sheet, adding remaining lemon on top of the fish. Place tomatoes around the fish, and pick remaining thyme off the stem; scatter over the tomatoes. Season tomatoes with salt, pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil.

Bake in 400°F oven until fish is cooked through and easily detaches from bone, about 25 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and garlic. Bake the tomatoes for another 10 minutes, or until they starts blistering. Serve with fish, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and extra lemon wedges. Enjoy!


La Table De Nana said...

I love the tomatoes ON the vine..spectacular..
have not cooked a fresh whole fish yet..One day:)

Barbara said...

Yes, you're so right. Fish HAS to be fresh! My father loved to fish on the great lakes when I was growing up. We had fish right out of the lakes for dinner often.
Love your roasted tomatoes...I roast all my veggies now.

Mr. & Mrs. P said...

Beautiful photo!!! The tomatoes looks perfect and the fish sounds moist and amazing!!!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I couldn't agree with you more! I think that the smell puts people off but many of them don't know that fresh fish doesn't smell fishy. Great post!

ashley - baker by nature said...

Wow! What a gorgeously fresh and healthy meal!

Sara said...

I definitely know what you mean about that fishy smell, I cooked some fish last night that was...fine, but not amazing, and definitely had that fish smell, yuck. I definitely should have given up when nothing looked amazing at the fish's hard when you have a recipe in mind but I need to remember that we won't eat it all if it's not really good fish!

This one looks amazing - so fresh and delicious! Love the way you did the tomatoes.

Chocolate Shavings said...

Sara: Sometimes, looking in the frozen section is the best option if the fresh fish doesn't look that fresh. I've experimented and found a few brands of frozen seafood that are top notch - so sometimes that's a great option too!

Juliana said...

Yes, if the fish is fresh should not smell fishy, although certain fish have a more distinct the presentation...beautiful pictures.

Unknown said...

I have always not been a fan of the smell of fish, although some really has a distinct smell. I eat fish, but mostly get the fillet ones from the fish monger ;). Love the colour of the dish presentation and great click! ♥ Jo

Asha @ FSK said...

Agree with you on how easy and wonderful cooking fish can be. I actually think its easier than chicken! especially when its fresh, you can even go a bit undercooked and taste the different flavors and textures!

Joanne said...

I've never cooked a whole fish before but you make it sound so wonderfully doable! Gorgeous!

Amy said...

Great tips in getting fresh fish! I'm a lucky girl that my Dad loves fishing and he always gives me the freshest catch of the day. :)

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

What a delicious plate!

kale said...

love the simple presentation and focus on ingredients. roasted tomatoes are such a great way to dress up a dish! when we visit the coast I gorge on fresh seafood. come to think of it, I'm due for a visit. gotta fill my fish quota!

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Adrian (What the Heck is Filipino Food) said...

Great tips! Yes, I agree on getting them to scale and gut the fish - such a time saver plus it's a task I don't really enjoy! LOL

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