Branzino with Roasted Grapes

This method of roasting a fish can work beautifully for a lot of whole fish that’s of the same size and texture. Dorade (orata) is a great substitute if you can’t find any branzino. Branzino is another fancy name for European seabass, but lately, there’s been some controversy about what is the proper usage of the term “bass”, and these days more and more people refer to the fish as just branzino. Some of its other names are loup de mer or sea dace.

If you’re not hear a farmer’s market or there aren’t any grape farmers near you selling their fall harvest, don’t despair. Just find your favorite supermarket grape and throw it in with the fish – it will be delicious, no matter what. Also, while it might be tempting to throw the fish and the grapes in the oven all at once, I highly recommend adding the grapes halfway through the fish roasting time. Cooking the grapes for too long can lead them to dry up and burn and stick to your baking pan.

1 (1-pound) head-on branzino, scaled and gutted
Olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 or 3 slices lemon
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, optional, to taste
1 cup grapes (your favorite kind – I used Mars)
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Lemon wedges, for squeezing on the fish
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

1. Heat the oven to 450oF; position the rack in the middle. Rinse and thoroughly dry the fish and place is on a shallow baking pan. Using a pastry brush, brush the inside and the top (but not the bottom side) of the fish with oil. The reason for that is that you want the fish skin to stick to the bottom of the baking pan so it comes off easily when you are serving the fish.

2. Place a rosemary sprig, garlic clove, and lemon slices inside the fish cavity, and generously season with salt inside the fish and out. Use a bit more salt than you think you might need – the fish is a sturdy creature and can take it. Add the black pepper if using.

3. Transfer the fish to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Add the grapes and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the fish is flaky and the flesh is opaque white when you peel a little bit of the skin off. The grapes, by now, should look a little soft and wrinkly, slightly burst, and leak out. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack.

4. Arm yourself with two large spoons and carefully peel back the top of the skin. Gently spoon the flesh of the fish on the top side of the spine and transfer it to a plate. Repeat until no more meat remains on top. Gently lift the spine out of the other half of the fish and set it aside. Using your spoons, gently lift the rest of the fish meat that remains on the pan. This will not make for a pretty presentation, but this is meant to be served family-style, among friends.

Check the fish meat for any remaining bones, and spoon the grapes over and around the fish. Drizzle everything with olive oil, squeeze a few drops of the lemon, and sprinkle with the flaky sea salt.

Serves 1 to 2.

© 2023 Olga Massov