Branzino, which is also known as spigola (sea bass) in Italy, is a very tasty fish, with relatively few, easy-to-remove bones and firm flesh that handsomely holds its shape when cooked.
Image © ionino
This is one of the most effective ways to cook branzino. The chemical simplicity of this dish is astounding: what salt and heat perform on the sea creature is a miracle, extracting unimaginable juices and delicate flavors. It tastes wonderful, completely non-fat and looks stunning served on its baking oven tray. Considering that best results occur with bigger fish, you may want to share this with others in a communal food orgy. This is all you need:
- 1 branzino or any local large fish (sea bass, yellow tail, bream, red snapper–whatever's fresh that day), 2 lbs minimum
- 4 lbs of sea salt
- 1 black olive, pitted
Have your fishmonger clean the fish for you, eviscerating it but not removing the head nor scaling it, you'll need the scales to hold the skin together and the head for taste and show.
Preheat oven at 200° C (400° F).
In a large mixing bowl wet the salt with 1/2 cup of water or until it feels like snow. Mix with your hands and get a free scrub treatment. Blanket your oven tray with parchment paper and a 1/2-inch layer of dampened salt. Lay the fish in the middle of the tray and start piling on the rest of the salt, covering it completely. Shape the salt to follow the contours of the body of the fish, packing down firmly. This will be the crust that will form during baking. It will prevent the heat from drying the fish during cooking, and will not make the flesh too salty, to the contrary. This genius cooking procedure assures deliciously moist meat, fat free and perfectly seasoned. If you like, you can draw fish scales in the salt and place half a black pitted olive as the eye.
Bake, undisturbed, for 20-25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and take it directly to the table (where you can let it rest for a few minutes if you like, while everyone admires your genius). Theatrically crack the crust with dramatic emphasis and cocky smile. Peel off the fish’s skin if it didn't come off with the crust, spoon the fish off the bone, and serve. Group elation will surely follow.
Image © magicoforno