January 15, 2008

Roasted Branzino, Mamma Mia!!

Since the day of the Strip Club, Penn Avenue Fish Company has become one of our favorite culinary stops in the Pittsburgh vicinity. We’ve had ultra-fresh cod and sole filets and buttery “#1 tuna” (seared to perfection by some friends for the rib-eyeriffic dinner party), not to mention the unorthodox yet highly satisfying seafood tacos and great sushi from the prepared foods menu. It’s all been quite good – probably as good, if not better, than any swimming creatures you can get in Pittsburgh.

So it was no surprise that when we purchased two whole branzino (those headless things on the chopping board over there), also known as European sea bass, on Saturday morning at said fish monger, the end-result later that evening was nothing short of spectacular: tender and moist, with a subtle flavor that seemed almost destined to be eaten with the “picada” – a mix of olive oil-soaked bread crumbs, orange zest and mint, among other things – sprinkled atop the fish.

Kudos must go to the wife, who, based on one whole fish that was filleted by the server at a restaurant table several years ago, did an expert job of filleting the mostly whole branzino that emerged from the oven. She also gets kudos for choosing what would accompany the fish: chard with raisins and pine nuts, from the indispensable Savoring Italy cookbook.

The branzino recipe was published almost a year ago in the New York Times, adapted from what has to be the most popular cookbook among food bloggers, the Zuni Café Cookbook.

There’s not much for me to add to the recipe. I followed it fairly closely, although, for the picada, I didn’t do a whole lot of measuring. I have included the chard recipe below, because it paired very well with the fish and was remarkably simple.

Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts

  • 1.5 lbs of chard, washed
  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins (we used goldens)
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the chard into long, thin strips. Turn up the heat to medium in a large saucepan, add the chard, water, and a good pinch of salt. Cover and cook, stirring here and there, until the chard is pretty tender. About 5-7 minutes.

Drain the chard in a colander and try to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Wipe out the saucepan, put on low heat, and add the butter. When it’s melted, add back the chard along with the raisins and ground pepper, stirring to get everything well coated and buttery, about another 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve.

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