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4 Tips for Cooking Whole Branzino
Branzino, or European sea bass, is sweet, meaty and full of flavor. Follow these tips to unlock the potential of this fish:
- Leaving the skin on creates a crispy texture and cooking the fish whole results in incredibly moist flesh.
- The longer you marinate the fish, the more flavorful it will be. You can marinate it up to two days beforehand.
- Dredging the fish in cornstarch and rice flour creates a crispy skin and keeps any marinade from hitting the oil and spitting. Cornstarch and rice flour are pure starch while all purpose flour is lower in starch and contains gluten. Starchier flours will crisp and brown more quickly in a shallow fry with a quick-cooking protein like fish.
- Look for the natural angle of the whole fish when slicing to create the portions that guests will be able to easily pull off the bone. Open up the belly to create a stable base when you’re ready to place it into the hot oil.
This preparation is gluten-free.
Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Whole Crispy Branzino RecipeEMAIL RECIPE
- 2 pound whole branzino, gutted and scaled*
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ -inch knob ginger, sliced
- 1 shallot, sliced
- ½ stalk lemongrass, rough cut
- 4 Thai chilis, halved
- 1 cup Shaoxing wine*
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup rice flour
- 1 quart vegetable oil for frying
*If you can’t find branzino look for any white fish with a meaty flesh like cod, snapper, or striped bass.
*Shaoxing wine is an amber colored rice wine with a nutty flavor profile similar to dry sherry. Stay away from labels that say “cooking wine.” You want wine of a good enough quality that you would drink it on its own.
Step 1: Make the Shaoxing marinade
1. In a large bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, Thai chilis, Shaoxing wine, fish sauce, honey, and rice wine vinegar.
2. Let marinate for a minimum of one hour before use.
Step 2: Prep the fish
1. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the fins and tail off of the fish. The fish scraps can be saved in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days and made into make a fish stock.
2. Use a chef’s knife or fillet knife to cut ⅓ inch deep down both sides of the vertebrae. Starting one side of the fish one inch away from and parallel to the gills, make 4 to 5 diagonal slices into the flesh, cutting all the way to the ribs and spacing the slices 2 inches apart. Repeat with the other side.
3. Place the branzino in a large baking dish. Use a pastry brush to liberally brush the Shaoxing marinade inside the cavity, into the cuts, and onto the skin. Season each area with a few pinches of salt and a few twists of fresh cracked pepper. Drain the excess marinade and place fish onto a new baking tray.
Step 3: Fry the fish
1. Heat 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil to 350-360°F. Place a sheet tray with a wire rack or lined with paper towels next to your frying station so you can easily remove the fish from the wok after frying.
2. Combine the cornstarch and rice flour. Sift over both sides of the fish with a small hand strainer. Make sure all the fish is covered with flour, including the cuts to ensure a crispy crust. The drier the fish is the more even fry it will produce. Shake off any excess flour, then stand the fish up on its belly pulling the belly flaps outward. If the fish falls over, make a longer cut from the belly to create a wider base and help the fish stand up easily in the wok.
3. Set the center of the fish (where it holds the most weight) onto a spider and carefully place into the hot oil. The oil should froth and sizzle. The temperature of the oil will drop once the fish in in so increase the heat to medium-high to bring it back up to a sizzle. Shallow fry the fish until deep golden brown and very crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. As it cooks, ladle hot oil over any exposed part of the fish to ensure even cooking. You will see the cuts you made open up away from the spine and turn golden brown. Once the flesh no longer looks opaque it is done cooking. Remember that the cooking process will continue even after the fish is out of the oil because of the heat trapped in the flesh.
4. Carefully remove the fish from the oil, Use one hand to grab the tail (if it is too hot use tongs or a towel), lift the tail end of the fish slightly, and slide the spider under the belly. Lift the fish and carefully set on the wire rack over a sheet pan to drain. Season immediately with salt. Turn off the heat, let the oil cool down, and reserve in a mason jar or dispose.