When I started learning to cook, I was terrified of cooking fish, mostly because I always feared it would dry it out. Probably because it usually did. The length of that moment when fish is done—it just begins to flake apart but isn't yet tough—is slim, especially for a delicate fish like branzino with its soft white meat.
But just as roasting a chicken produces juicier results than a chicken breast, roasting a whole fish helps tremendously, almost guaranteeing succulence. The presence of bones and cartilage adds flavor and moisture, helping to keep the temperature more regular as the fish cooks.
This recipe is incredibly simple, just a stove-to-oven technique with basic herbs. But with a great fish, that's all you need.
- 2 whole branzino or other white-fleshed fish, about 3 pounds total, descaled and cleaned
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1 lemon, halved
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 3 sprigs rosemary, thyme, or other mixed herbs
Preheat an oven to 425°F.
Dry the fish thoroughly inside and out with paper towels, then season liberally with salt and pepper. Slice half the lemon into thin slices and lay them inside the cavities of the fish, along with the rosemary, thyme, or other herbs.
Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof skillet or roasting pan large enough to hold the fish over medium heat until almost smoking (or use multiple skillets), ensure that the entire surface of the skillet is coated in oil to avoid sticking. Lay the fish carefully in to the skillet, and cook for a minute. Spoon some of the oil over to top of the fish to coat it, then transfer the pan(s) to the oven.
Roast the fish for about ten minutes, until just cooked through. If desired, finish by broiler to crisp the top of the skin.
Remove from the oven and add the butter and parsley to the pan. As it sizzles and turns golden, spoon it constantly over the fish to infuse with flavor. Sprinkle the parsley into the butter for the last few moments of cooking.
Serve the fish immediately with the second half of the lemon cut into wedges for juicing over the fish.