Marcella Hazan on cooking a whole stuffed sea bass
Marcella Hazan is my favorite cookbook author by far. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is my bible and I would say accounts for 1/3 of all the recipes that are served in my home.
Periodically if I am up for a challenge I make her Baked Sea Bass Stuffed with Shellfish—an intricate dish in which a whole bass-like fish is boned and then stuffed with mussels, shrimp and clams and baked in parchment. It is arduous and messy but the results are fantastic.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview her for the New York Times about preparing this dish in America and the differences between the European branzino and the American equivalents.
Here is a distillation of what she told me. RIP Marcella. You are the heart of my kitchen.
Marcella Hazan: The most near to the branzino is the striped bass. But one of the more difficult things is to translate in Italian recipes is fish. When I wrote Marcella's Kitchen and I was living in Venice I couldn't do the chapter for fish. There is no fish there that is the same as in America. And so I rented an apartment for two summer in Bridgehampton to work with the fish in America. Which made it one of the most expensive chapters in the book! But yes striped bass is the most the near to the branzino.
On the wild and the farmed branzino -- the small branzino that is raised in the farm they have a white stripe in the skin. The other one that is not farmed has a black stripe. The wild one has meat is a little more firmer and a little more tasty. The meat of farmed fish is more soft and not compact.
But let me tell you one thing though about serving whole fish. I try always to take whole fish. But people always say "it's too complicated" and right away they don't try. But this dish it works with any whole fish who has white meat who doesn't have much taste – this fish would gain from that kind of cooking. The problem that sometime you have is that the fillet is too thick and afterwards you have this monster. In that case you use the fillets instead of the whole fish. But the ideal preparation is a fish that is 3-4 pounds whole.
When bringing the fish to the table it is best to take out the fins beforehand because sometime I found that in America they think the fish is something different. I usually had many experience of students that would almost faint to see a fish with the head one. One student he said "it's looking at me!" I said "it's not looking at you it's dead."
And here is a link to my original article in the New York Times complete with the actual recipe:
Paul Greenberg is the author of the New York Times Bestseller