Talk about a popular fish these days, branzino (sometimes spelled bronzino) can be found on more and more restaurant menus and is showing up in many of my favorite fish markets and supermarkets. We find it served as a whole fish with head on or as fillets in restaurants but sold mostly as a whole fish in markets.
A Fish Of Many Names
The classified name for branzino is Dicentrarchus labrax. Can you imagine seeing that name on a menu or having the waiter tell you “today’s special is whole roasted Dicentrarchus labrax”?
I have seen it called European sea bass and Mediterranean sea bass but this same fish is called something different depending on where you live. If you are dining in France, you may see it called loup de mer or bar commum on the menu.
In Spain you’ll see it called róbalo or lubina. In Greece, lavráki. In Turkey, levrek. In Germany, Europäischer Wolfsbarsch. A lot of names for the same fish.
Italy has different names depending on what part of the country you are in. In northern Italy, this fish is called branzino but in Tuscany they call it ragno. On peninsular Italy you’ll see spigola and pesce lupo in other parts of the country.
In Spain, I counted 16 different common names for Dicentrarchus labrax and a total of 158 names on this website including 狼鱸 in China.
How to Buy Branzino
Most markets where I’ve purchased Branzino only sell them as a whole fish but most good fish markets are happy to prep them anyway you like. Some people like to roast Branzino whole so the fishmonger will clean them and leave them whole. If you don’t care to serve them with heads on, the market will happily remove it.
I wanted to pan fry the fillets so I asked Andy, my fish guy, to fillet them for me. I often ask him to give me the leftover head and carcass so I can make my own fish stock. If I’m only buying one fish, I’ll freeze the head and carcass in a zip lock bag until I have enough for stock.
How to Cook Branzino
There are many ways to cook this versatile and delicious fish. I have roasted and grilled it whole but for boneless fillets, I like to lightly coat them in flour, season and pan fry them in butter and/or oil.
Although similar to pan frying flounder or fluke, you’ll most likely find your seafood market leaves the skin on this fish which is fine.
Rather than season the fillets individually, we like to season the flour that we are going to dredge the fish in. You can season with just salt & pepper to taste or use a seafood commercial brand or make up your own special seafood blend using your favorite herbs and spices.
We enjoy a commercial product called Fisherman’s Wharf by Urban Accents that has salt, black pepper, dehydrated garlic, white onion, lemon peel, parsley, green peppercorn, green onion, and a little soybean oil. Salt & pepper will do or come up with your own combination of fresh or dried herbs.
How to Pan Fry Branzino
- 2 fillets branzino
- flour for dredging
- seasoning to taste (we like Fisherman's Wharf)
- 1½ tablespoons butter
- 1 lemon quartered for garnish
- Add some flour to a shallow pan.I like using a metal pie pan, and season it with your favorite commercial seasoning or your own special blend.I think it's important to dredge the fish in the flour just before adding it to a hot buttered pan. If you don't, the flour starts to clump and get messy. It's also important when dredging to shake off any extra flour before adding to the pan for the same reasons.
- Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat until hot. I prefer nonstick pans when cooking fish because it helps prevent sticking although there are good tips for keeping fish from sticking in any pan you use. See my post How To Prevent Fish From Sticking To The Pan.
- While the pan is getting hot, now it's time to dredge the fillets in the seasoned flour, remembering to shake off any extra flour.
- When the pan is hot, add the butter being careful not to let it brown or burn.
- As soon as the butter is melted, add the branzino fillets to the pan skin side down. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the skin browns and crisps up a little. It's important you don't "play" with the fish or try moving it around the pan until the skin browns or the fillets may fall apart. When they move in the pan with a little shake, they are ready to flip.
- Carefully turn the fish over with a large spatula and continue cooking until done. How long will this take? It depends on the thickness of the filet, the type of pan you are using and the heat you are cooking at. Medium on my gas stove is going to be different than your gas or electric stove. This is just something you get comfortable with the more you cook.It shouldn't be more than 2 - 3 minutes but you can check by using a knife to make sure the fish is opaque and starts to flake.
- Remove the fish from the pan and plate. We served our branzino over grits and topped with a quarter slice of lemon.