I was in the mood for fish after eating too many tacos, so I stopped by the Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center to buy one. It was getting late on a Sunday. I didn’t want to deal with the Fairway crowd and there was not enough time to go to Chinatown. I knew I had no choice but the expensive produce and the long lines in Whole Foods. Their stock was low that late in the day, but I managed to find a whole branzino. I like branzini–in plural form–because of their fleshy, flaky, white meat. They remind me of the Filipino bangus, or milkfish, without the perseverance requirement to pick on small fish bones. Branzino is essentially a Mediterranean sea bass, or to the French, loup de mer, and farm-raised. I also like that they come in smaller sizes than black sea bass or red snapper; perfect for one serving.
I walked over to the vegetable section and found some nice bundles of asparagus. I’ve been eating them grilled lately–watch out, smelly pee!–since they are so easy to cook. If I didn’t end up making a light sauce with them to go with the fish, I thought I’d use them as stuffing. Almost 15 minutes standing in the checkout line led me to go the easier route when I got home.
1 branzino, butterflied, deboned
4 pieces of asparagus, cut in short pieces
1 shallot, sliced thinly
olive oil, salt, pepper
1. In a large wok, heat some olive oil. SautÃ© onions and asparagus until onions caramelize a bit and asparagus pieces are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from wok and set aside.
2. Lay the butterflied branzino on a chopping board. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Scoop some of the asparagus-onion mixture and stuff the fish. Using kitchen twine, close the fish to keep the stuffing inside. You can either use a giant kitchen needle or just gently wrap the fish with the twine to hold the butterflied pieces close together.
3. Using the same wok, heat some more oil. Add the fish and cook one side until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a heat-resistant spatula, gently turn the fish over and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.