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
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
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
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
Paul Greenberg is
the author of the New York Times Bestseller