Helping busy families cook and eat more seafood at home.

By Christine Burns Rudalevige

I would argue that buying smaller, whole fish – whether that’s a trout, black sea bass, striped bass or branzini – gets you better flavor, a better deal and better table presentation.

But seeing a bunch of whole fishes lying on ice in the case can be a little daunting for many home cooks.  The head, tail, fins and scales all have to be taken in and addressed accordingly.  But here’s the good news – all you have to know how to do is pick out a good one and the lovely man or woman behind the counter will do all the dirty work for you.

While they’re at it, ask them to butterfly it for you too. Butterflying is another way of filleting a fin fish. Rather than taking the fillets away from the backbone, the bone itself is taken out. The result is a single, double-breasted if you will, skin-on flat fillet. Usually the head and tail are left on to hold the fish together during cooking. But for squeamish cooks and/or eaters, you can remove the head and the tail will do the holding together job on its own.  Typically you’d buy a butterflied fish if you were going to stuff (See my Newspaper Trout column) or smoke it.

But I find it’s also a great cut of fish for folks looking to get dinner on the table in twenty minutes or less. 

My way of cooking a butterflied fillet is more method than recipe.

I take a couple of butterflied fish and lay them flat on a baking sheet that is both lined with tin foil and rubbed with olive oil.   I mix 2 tablespoons of fat (olive oil, soften butter, mayonnaise) with some interesting flavors (mustard and capers; lemon zest, garlic and parsley; or a Middle Eastern Spice mix).  I smoosh that mixture into some fresh sour dough bread crumbs and slather the resulting mixture over the fish and slide it into a very hot oven.  Ten to 15 minutes later, I slide the pan out of the oven and into the middle of the table.

Baked Butterflied Branzini (It’s the one in the Middle)

Serves 2 to 4

Everything in its Place
Olive oil
2 butterflied branzini
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon each of lemon juice and lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¾ cup fresh sourdough bread crumbs

Directions
Preheat oven to 450. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil.  Rub about a tablespoon of olive oil over the foil.

Rinse and dry the fish.  Lay them flat, flesh side up on the prepared sheet.  Sprinkle each fillet with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and zest and parsley.  Stir the bread crumbs into this mixture to coat them completely.  Spread this mixture evenly over the flesh of the fish. 

Bake the fish for 10-12 minutes until the flesh is opaque but not dried out.  Serve immediately.