This perfectly roasted whole branzino recipe is an impressive fish dinner that you can make in just 20 minutes! It's even better finished Greek-style with my lemony, garlicky ladolemono sauce. Check out the tips and video below.
I make a fair bit of fish dinners using boneless fish fillets from baked cod, to pan seared salmon, and even fish piccata. But when I’m after something a little extra special, I go for whole roasted fish like today’s branzino recipe.
Whole fish is easier to prepare than most people think. With just a few seasonings, veggie slices, and a hot oven, you can prepare this branzino recipe in just over 20 minutes! I love finishing my hot fish with a good pour of my easy ladolemono sauce for loads of bright Greek flavors of fresh lemon juice, garlic, and dried oregano.
What is branzino?
Branzino, also known as Eurpoean or Mediterranean sea bass, is a beautiful white fish native to the western and southern coasts of Europe, as well as the northern coasts of Africa. The light, flaky white flesh of branzino has a delicate, slightly sweet taste that lends itself well to a variety of flavors. It is usually served whole but works well when filleted.
Here in the US, this white fish is usually sold as branzino (plural, branzini), but it goes by other names like European bass, lavraki, capemouth, loup de mer, and as mentioned, Mediterranean sea bass.
When buying whole fish, first check the eyes: They should be bright and shiny. If the eyes are cloudy, avoid that fish! Do the smell test. Fresh fish should not spell overwhelmingly fishy. A briny smell is normal, but if the fish has been sitting in the case too long, it will begin to smell foul. Lastly, a fish’s scales are a good indicator of how long a fish has been sitting out. Fresh fish will have bright, metallic scales. Steer clear of fish with dull scales.
Ingredients for this whole branzino recipe
Because of its tender flesh and delicate flavor, branzino (or Mediterranean sea bass) does not require a ton of work to taste great! The flavors here come from fresh sliced vegetables and a delicious lemony, garlicky ladolemono dressing. Here is what you need to make it
- One whole branzino fish (about 1 to 1 ½ pound) – cleaned, with head and tail attached. If you cannot find branzino, sea bass, red snapper, or another whole white fish would work just as well (more substitute ideas below).
- Extra virgin olive oil – a generous amount is needed, so use good quality EVOO. For this one, I recommend our Greek Early Harvest EVOO
- Lemon – You’ll need about ½ a lemon, sliced into thin rounds, to stuff the fish cavity. And more for the ladolemono sauce.
- Red onion, sliced – Use about ½ a red onion to stuff the fish.
- Chopped fresh dill – Fresh dill has a slightly licoricey taste, with a hint of citrus and bitterness in its flavor profile. It brings earthiness to this Mediterranean branzino.
- Cherry tomatoes, halved – To top the branzino fish after it is cooked. Tomatoes add plenty of bright flavor and a hint of acidity.
- Ladolemono sauce – A generous drizzle of this Greek dressing made of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and dried oregano adds tantalizing flavor to the whole roasted branzino.
Sauce for roasted branzino
Finishing your cooked seafood with a big squirt of fresh lemon is a good way to add brightness and counter any “fishy” or briny flavors. But to amp the flavor up even more, I finish this easy whole branzino recipe with a bath of Greek ladolemono sauce, which is made with lots of fresh lemon juice, garlic, dried oregano, and a good drizzle of rich, peppery Greek extra virgin olive oil.
The key here is to pour the sauce over the hot fish immediately when you take it out of the oven. Every bite will be fully flavored with the delicious sauce!
Other sauce options that will work well with this whole roasted fish are chermoula, romesco, or homemade basil pesto. I still highly recommend that you squeeze a good bit of fresh lemon juice over the fish if you’re not using ladolemono sauce.
How to make roasted branzino (step-by-step):
Whole roasted branzino is so much easier to prepare than it looks! With some simple, classic Mediterranean flavors like lemon and garlic, you can have a sophisticated dinner for two ready in about 20 minutes! Here’s how you make it (printer-friendly version below):
- Season the branzino. After patting the branzino dry, make two slits on both sides of the fish. Generously season with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides, as well as through the slits and in the cavity. Insert half a sliced lemon and half a sliced red onion into the fish cavity.
Roast the whole branzino and make the ladolemono sauce if using. Place the fish on a lightly oiled sheet pan that is big enough to accommodate it. Roast in the center rack of a 400 degrees F heated oven for 5 minutes on one side, then carefully turn over (you might need a large spatula for this as the fish is quite flimsy) and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes (or until the fish is cooked and flakes easily). Cooked fish will have an internal temperature of 145 degrees F when checked with a meat thermometer. Turn the broiler on and broil the branzino about 6 inches from the heat source for 3 to 4 minutes (or until the skin chars).
While the fish bakes, make the ladolemono sauce by adding the lemon juice, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper to a bowl and whisking them. While whisking, slowly drizzle the extra virgin olive oil into the bowl. This helps the sauce emulsify and thicken.
- Serve. Transfer the Mediterranean branzino to a platter and drizzle immediately with ladolemono sauce. Use as much as you like, and be sure to pour the sauce into the cavity of the fish as well. After lightly salting a cup of halved cherry tomatoes, spoon them over the fish. If you like, you can drizzle more ladolemono over the tomatoes. Finish with fresh chopped dill. Serve immediately.
Tips for best whole fish:
Mild, flaky white fish does not need much to taste good, but there are some easy tips to take your baked branzino to the next level.
- Use a whole such as branzino fish, snapper, or flounder. A fish with some bones, the skin, head, and tail still intact will have more flavor than boneless, skinless fillets. Keeping some of the bones also helps to prevent the fish from drying out. To reduce your prep time, ask the fishmonger to scale the fish and clean out the cavity. There will be bones left in the fish, but they should be big enough for you to easily pick out while eating.
- Cut slits into both sides of the fish. Having slits in both sides of the branzino help get flavor into the cavity. It also helps the skin get nice and crisp.
- Don’t overcook your fish. Even though you are working with an entire fish, it doesn’t take much time at all to cook, especially at high temperatures in the oven. Once the fish has turned from translucent to opaque, and it flakes easily with a fork, it is cooked. If you have a meat thermometer on hand, cooked fish will have an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.
What other fish can I use in place of branzino?
Branzino can sometimes be difficult to find, but I’ve had good luck locating it at Whole Foods. If branzino is not available in your area, you can use red snapper, cod, sea bass, whole striped bass, flounder, halibut, or any other mild, flaky white fish.
What to serve with this Greek fish recipe?
This Greek fish dinner pairs well with lemon rice, Greek roasted potatoes, or oven-roasted vegetables. To start, I like to serve a big Greek salad or quick Mediterranean salad. Both salads can be dressed with any leftover ladolemono you may have.
Leftovers and storage
As this is a sharing meal for two, you likely won’t have any leftovers. But if you do, store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The branzino will keep for three days. To reheat, place it in a skillet on the stove on medium heat for a few minutes.
More fish recipes to try
Hungry for more? Here are all our Mediterranean Recipes!
Greek-Style Roasted Branzino Recipe
- Extra virgin olive oil, I recommend our Early Harvest Greek EVOO for this recipe.
- 1 pound whole branzino fish, cleaned, head and tail attached (or whole striped bass, black sea bass, flounder, red snapper)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ½ lemon, sliced into rounds
- ½ red onion, sliced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- 1 Ladolemono recipe
- Adjust a rack in the center of your oven. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Pat the fish. With a sharp knife, make two slits on both sides of the fish. Rub the fish with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides, inserting the seasoning through the slits and in the fish cavity.
- Stuff the fish cavity with the sliced onion and lemon.
- Roast in the center rack of your heated oven for 5 minutes on one side, then turn over and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes or until the fish is cooked and flakes easily. Turn the broiler on and place the fish about 6 inches from the heat source for 3 to 4 minutes or until the skin chars.
- While the fish is cooking, prepare the Greek ladolemono sauce.
- As soon as the fish is finished, remove it from the oven. Transfer the fish to a serving platter and drizzle immediately with as much of the ladolemono sauce as you like, making sure to add some of the sauce all over the cavity part as well. Toss the cherry tomatoes with a little salt and spoon them over the fish (you can drizzle a bit of the sauce again all the tomatoes). Finish with fresh dill. Serve immediately.
- Substitutes for branzino: If branzino is not available in your area, you can use red snapper, cod, sea bass, whole striped bass, flounder, halibut, or any other mild, flaky white fish.
- Ladolemono sauce can be made a few days ahead of time, and you can store it to use in multiple ways.
- Don’t overcook the branzino. Fish doesn’t take much time at all to cook, especially at high temperatures in the oven. Once the fish has turned from translucent to opaque, and it flakes easily with a fork, it is cooked. If you have a meat thermometer on hand, cooked fish will have an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.
- Leftovers and storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The branzino will keep for three days. To reheat, place it in a skillet on the stove on medium heat for a few minutes.
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