Branzino à la Frank
The fish head is a staple of the Rosh Hashanah feast, a symbol that our year should be like a head and not the tail, but you’ll usually find it relegated to the far corner of the table. Every year, I run out to the fish store before the holidays to purchase a fish head from a huge carton of frozen heads (usually from salmon that was frozen months before). I leave it out to defrost while my kids stare wide-eyed at it’s sunken eyes and teeth, and run in the opposite direction. I drizzle it with some olive oil, squeeze some fresh lemon juice to drown out the smell, and generously sprinkle it with salt and pepper, then roast it at a high temperature for 15 minutes knowing full well that no one is going to eat it.
But not this year. This year I’m going to serve whole roasted fish (minus the tail!) that is going to smell like the ocean. It’s eyes are going to bulge, like fresh fish should, and it’s going to be light and simple – in true Italian style.
This recipe is inspired by aqua pazza, an Italian dish of fish poached in “crazy water” which I watched Chef Frank Prisinzano eat almost daily on his trip through Italy this summer. Frank made all of his followers want to pull apart a whole fish with their fingers, eating every last morsel down to the bones.
2 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 whole branzino (approx. 1.5 lbs) scaled, gutted, gills and tail removed
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 heaping tbsp. capers
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the potatoes in a greased 9×13 baking dish. Place the fish in the center of the dish. Set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, but not browned, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and continue to saute until they start to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, water and capers and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, until the alcohol evaporates and the liquid reduces slightly.
3. Pour the sauce over the fish and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook, covered, for 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the fish flakes easily with a fork. Garnish with parsley and good quality olive oil and serve.