It is very common to eat whole roasted fish in restaurants and at the dinner table in Italy, and children there grow up learning how to fillet their fish with ease. When I arrived in New York, I discovered that many Americans are a little squeamish about eating a whole fish with the head and tail still attached. In the restaurant, the whole fish was presented to the table and then filleted professionally tableside.
If you prefer to have your fishmonger fillet it, just keep in mind that it will be a little less flavorful. Fresh fish is most flavorful when cooked with the bones, and the meat around the tail and close to the head is where you find the most delicious bites. This home cook version of the recipe is very simple to prepare. This preparation calls for Branzino or Mediterranean Sea Bass, but it works well with other medium size white fish like snapper and striped bass.
- 4 whole Mediterranean sea bass (branzino), about 1 ¼ pounds each, cleaned
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the lemon sauce
- 4 garlic cloves without skin, crushed
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 medium sweet onions, peeled and halved
- 4 medium tomatoes, halved (or 8-10 cherry tomatoes, whole)
- 2 lemons, halved, plus juice of one lemon
- ¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Brush each of the fish with olive oil, then drizzle half of the remaining oil on a rimmed baking sheet or a shallow baking pan. Make sure the fish do not touch.
- Insert a clove of garlic and a sprig of thyme into the cavity of each fish.
- Add the slices of tomatoes, lemons, and onions to the pan around and between the fish.
- Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle the salt over both the vegetables and the fish.
- Roast the fish and vegetables for about 20 minutes, or until the fish are cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Keep in mind that the size of the fish will influence your cooking time.
- While the fish is roasting, combine the juice of one lemon with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and parsley. Drizzle over the fish and serve.