Mar 8, 2010

Branzino al sale recipe

Branzino, which is also known as spigola (sea bass) is a tasty fish, with relatively few, easy-to-pick 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), weighing 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 25-35 minutes, depending on oven power. If you use one, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the branzino: when cooked, the temperature should read 135 degrees. 

Remove the pan from the oven and take it directly to the table. Let the fish rest for 10 minutes, while guests admire your genius. With the back of a large spoon, give the salt shell a good whack and start peeling the crust away. The skin will come off with the crust. 

Spoon the fish off the bone, and serve. Group elation will surely follow.

branzino al sale, baked in a salt crust
Method images @


  1. splendid...thank you...smiles.

  2. i see a fish looking at me. it sounded delicious Lola, and then i saw it's eyes. i wish i wasn't so silly about it, but ever since i was small and my dad would catch trout while we were camping, and cook it fresh in a frying pan, i couldn't eat it with it's head on. now that i think of it, that sounds a bit gruesome too.
    you can ask me to leave now. :)
    (i do love the idea of a communal food orgy though, maybe with enough wine the head could remain) :)
    xo lori

  3. You might not get too many Americans to cook a whole fish! As for me, it's worth the fuss.

  4. i am all about the whole fish...and while it is looking at me...i will eat it. sounds lovely friend.

  5. oh no! the whole fish cooked is beautiful and yes it is prepared this way everywhere here in America, it's just me. your dish is truly wonderful!

  6. Not sure if my culinary skills would allow me to attempt this dish, but it looks scrumptious!

  7. I wonder why the whole fish thing is so intimidating. I've heard this before. Nothing is easier to cook a whole fish. It already comes seasoned to perfection by way of the sea it swam in, all it needs is heat! Plus this recipe couldn't be easier, the salt and the oven do all the work!

    As far as the staring blank look, Lori–I get it. You being a mermaid and all, it's perfectly understandable! ;)

  8. We order Branzino whenever it's available. I love being presented a whole fish at the table. It doesn't get any better.

  9. I have printed this out because I adore sea bass and this looks like a very healthy recipe for me to eat. Thank you Lola

  10. Yum - branzino is my #1 favorite fish, but I've never dared try the salt method of cooking - you've given me the courage. Thanks!

  11. I first had this dish down near Salerno and loved it! Amazing how moist it and flavorful it is!

  12. Yes! I worked in a restaurant in New York where we cooked our sea bass similarly. Not only does it make a great presentation, the fish stays moist in its little oven of salt.

  13. Hi Lola,I'm sure this is delicious, friends have talked about it being the nicest thing they ever ate, but I don't think I could bite in after seeing the eyes. I might try sometime cooking it without the head!

  14. Thank you all for visiting and for your lovely comments!

    Amuse Bouche 4Two, I know, it's such a huge act of love!!
    Julie, wonderful! And so healthy too!!
    farfalle1, great! Cooking fish is really much easier than expected.
    Valerie & Joe, amazing how that happens!
    Mimi, Oh no the head is so flavorsome! Just leave it under the salt crust, like a wee hood...

    Ciao a tutti!!