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Dissecting the Dish: Wood-fired Branzino

Servino’s Christian Darcoli tells the story behind his popular, light and simple, just in time for New Year’s resolutions. 

By Liz Barrett Foster

Developed more than 15 years ago, the wood-fired branzino dish at Servino Ristorante in Tiburon, California, remains a customer favorite.

“I was working at a restaurant in Puerto Rico, and there weren’t a lot of options at the time,” says Chef Christian Darcoli, director of culinary at Servino, Branzino—and even arugula—were considered new items there. 

Today, branzino is available year-round, since this light, flaky, sweet fish with a taste similar to sea bass is found in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering Spain, Greece and Turkey.

Since it’s on the small side, branzino is often roasted whole. In Darcoli’s wood-fired branzino recipe, instead of cooking the fish whole, Chef Darcoli saves cooking time, and offers a different spin, by fileting the fish. The recipe leans into Mediterranean flavors with the addition of spicy arugula, olives, capers, tomatoes and garlic. “The ingredients are nothing special, but it’s the combination of ingredients that are the trick,” he says.

After much trial and error testing different ingredients, Chef Darcoli says he pinned down what he feels is the best ingredient combination. And ultimately, it’s a recipe he says he would never change. “It’s like making a pizza, believe it or not,” Chef Darcoli says. “You don’t touch the fish too many times, it’s easy to make, and the result from such simple ingredients is quite astonishing.”

IMG_0334

Wood-fired Branzino 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Chef Christian Darcoli

Yield: 1 – 2 servings 

Ingredients:

  • 0.25 lb. fresh arugula 
  • 2 fillets of branzino, cut from a whole fish (600 – 800 g.)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • 1 Tbsp. capers 
  • 2 Tbsp. olives (taggiasca or kalamata) 
  • 3 garlic cloves 
  • 1 medium Roma tomato, chopped 
  • 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 oz. vegetable broth 
  • 4 oz. white wine 

Directions:

  • Preheat a wood-fired oven or oven to 500º degrees F. 
  • In a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet, arrange the arugula for your bedding. Place the filets of branzino on the arugula and season with salt and pepper. Add capers, olives, garlic, and tomatoes on top of the fillets, drizzle oil over the top. Pour vegetable broth and wine around the sides, not on top of the branzino. Place in a wood-fired oven for 10-12 minutes, or in a standard oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit until fish is just opaque and flaky, but not dry, about 8 minutes. 

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