This is the fish entrée that you order at a fancy West Village bistro and decide that it’s a splurge for $35 but, what the heck, it’s Saturday night and you got a babysitter…

Stuffed Branzino

Branzino has been sweeping the menus of downtown New York’s pan-Euro bistros for the past 5-7 years. But why would anyone spend so much for a simple, oven-cooked protein? Well, because “whole-roasted fish” sounds complicated, it appears intimidating. Then there are those fish guts to deal with- not sexy. Innards should never be on the Date Night roster.

Forget everything you assumed about whole-roasting fish and listen to me: this is easy, this is inexpensive, there are no guts involved- promise. Make your fishmonger (aka “fish guy”) do the dirty work and order your branzino “pan dressed.” He’ll wrap up an almost-oven-ready fish and you’re a few steps away from an impressive dinner with your honey.

Jamie and I happen to love fennel so that’s what we’ve used here. The cool part: not only does the fennel serve as the stuffing but also as the “resting rack” beneath the fish, allowing it to cook evenly on all sides (instead of coming out of the oven with a soggy bottom, no one likes soggy- or saggy- bottoms). If fennel doesn’t float your boat, a simple stuffing of lemons and thyme works well too. Just make sure to slice a bit of carrot or potato as a base to go beneath the fish. Once the fish is cooked after about 20 minutes, not only do you have your main, but a delicious vegetable side as well.

Go spend your extra pennies on a fabulous bottle of white, like Livio Felluga’s Pinot Grigio or Friulano, and then thank me on Monday.

Whole Roasted Branzino
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
  • 1 1 lb whole branzino (sea bass), dorade (sea bream)
  • 1 head fennel, sliced thin to medium thickness
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 4 branches fresh, whole thyme branches
  • extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Rinse the fish with cold water. Pat dry. Lightly rub with olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper, inside and out.
  3. Place a few slices of sliced lemon, the whole thyme branches and fennel tops (or slices of the bulb) inside the fish.
  4. Toss the remaining fennel with olive oil, salt and pepper and make a base in the center of a baking sheet.
  5. Rest the fish on top of the fennel and place in the oven to cook. Cook fish approximately 20 minutes or you can pierce the fish and see that flesh is white, all the way to the bone. Remove from the oven lightly drizzle with fresh oil and finish with a squeeze of lemon.