Turn a meat lover into a fish lover with branzino

Turn a meat lover into a fish lover with branzino

3 minute read

When I first met my husband Dino,  it was obvious he loved meat. Whether it was his father’s roasted leg of lamb with rosemary, his mother’s Haitian pork griot, my mother’s veal roast with white wine, or my father’s grilled T-bone steaks, he was always eager for big portions of meat. Fish, however, was another matter: he avoided it when his family prepared it, and my mother rarely cooked it, so until we moved in together, I had no idea he was averse to fish.

Little by little, he started eating fish: sometimes at our favorite Chinese restaurant, we ordered a sweet and sour fish with pine nuts; other times, I made monkfish in a lemony marinade, or seared tuna with a fennel seed crust; and when I tested recipes for my three cookbooks, he always gave a hearty thumbs up to any fish recipe I developed. But he never requested fish and he never missed it if I went months without cooking it.

Branzino: The Fish that Changed Everything

Speed forward to 2013: we had both lost quite a bit of weight years before but we saw the numbers on the scale creeping back up a bit more than we liked. We were due for another diet.

This time, I was adamant that we would eat more fish and less meat—unlike Dino, I am not a meat lover, and I wasn’t looking forward to endless meals of meat, meat, and more meat. I was adamant that we would eat more fish to make the experience a little less punitive for me. Mediterranean Sea Bass, aka Branzino, is a perfect fish to convert your meat lover into a fish lover - as it is very light and not fishy. One of the biggest hits in our cooking classes and parties is the  Branzino with Sweet Pepper and Scallion Stuffing in Herb Oil (full video recipe available on the membership site). 

One summer night, I opted to do something simpler with the branzino -  I would pan-sear it until the skin got really crispy, then serve it skin side up over his favorite red leaf lettuce from a nearby farm, some quick-pickled Vidalia onions, and slivered cucumber. A vibrant olive oil dressing with fresh mint, Thai bird’s eye chilies, lemon zest, and grated garlic would tie it all together.

That was officially the first fish dish Dino ever requested time and again. The trick: searing the skin in a crazy hot nonstick skillet makes it as thin and crispy as the best potato chip, lending incredible texture and lip-smacking satisfaction to the simplest preparation.

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Basic Technique for Perfect Crispy Fish Skin

You don’t need much to ensure success. Here’s the bullet list:

  1. Buy the freshest fish possible. Branzino works best for us but see below for other suggestions
  2. Blot it dry 
  3. Rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides a few minutes before cooking 
  4. Heat a nonstick or carbon steel pan until it is crazy hot 
  5. Sear the fish skin side down as you press down with a spatula 
  6. Flip and cook the flesh side for a few seconds 
  7. Serve hot, skin side up

That’s it. No magic tricks, no lengthy preparations, and no heavy price ticket. A few minutes of hands-on cooking and you just may be able to turn someone indifferent to fish into a fish lover, like I did Dino.


We now sear branzino before rolling it into homemade maki rolls, setting it atop a lime and peanut dressing, or serving it with a velvety Tuscan chickpea sauce  (video recipe available with the video membership) and we are always amazed at how such a simple technique can so completely alter an ingredient.

Crispy Branzino Skin Chips

The crispy skin on branzino is highly addictive, so we always order branzino with the skin on,  even for recipes featuring skinless filets such as Branzino with Sweet Pepper and Scallion Stuffing in Herb Oil . This way we can serve the crispy branzino skin chips as an ultra-light appetizer... We’ve got a quick technique video that shows how to Skin a Fish Filet and crisp the skin to make a fun take on fish cracklings. 

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Crisping Other Fish Skin

Branzino isn't the only fish whose skin crisps up beautifully in a super-hot pan: Red snapper, salmon, striped bass, and black bass are all excellent prepared the same way. But branzino's skin is the thinnest of all these and the flavor of the fish itself is so light and delicate- so not fishy - that it is the easiest gateway fish for anyone reticent to eat fish.

If you try crisping branzino, or any other fish, drop me a line: I'd love to hear how you liked it!

Happy cooking,

fish branzino