Dicentrarchus labrax, commonly known as Branzino, or the European bass, is among the most popular Mediterranean fishes, prominent in traditional Italian, and Greek cuisines.
Branzino is a type of white fish, part of the Moronidae family of perciform fishes, commonly called the temperate basses. There are only six species which are part of this family.
The branzino fish itself splits into two genetically distinct populations of wild European bass. The first population is found in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, while the second is found in the western Mediterranean Sea.
Though they are primarily an ocean-going fish, the branzino can also be found in shallow coastal waters and river mouths, during the summer months, due to their migratory nature.
Characteristics & Habitat
Branzino is currently considered the most important fish that is cultured in the Mediterranean, and they grow slowly, as it takes several years for a branzino to reach full adulthood.
An adult branzino can reach sizes of up to 3.3 ft / 1 m in length, and 26 lb / 12 kg in weight, however, the most common size is at 1.6 ft / 0.5 m. They have a distinct silvery-grey or dark-bluish color on their backs.
The young form schools and feed on invertebrates, while adults consume other fish, and are less social. These fish are migratory, as they like to travel south during winter into warmer waters.
Branzino fish like to swim in the littoral zone, near the banks of rivers, lagoons, and estuaries during the summer, and they migrate offshore during winter. Most of them are found in the eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, from northern Norway to Senegal, and the northern African coast.
Apart from the Mediterranean Sea, they can also be found in the southern Black Sea, and surprisingly, they aren’t present in the Baltic Sea.
They are a night-hunting species, feeding on smaller fish, polychaetes, cephalopods, and crustaceans, and they spawn from March to June, mostly in inshore waters.
Is Branzino a Healthy Fish?
Good tasting food is either healthy or unhealthy, and when it comes to the branzino fish, it’s as good as it can get. A branzino that weighs 1 lb / 0.45 kg, has under 300 calories, making it quite a healthy choice for dinner.
Branzino contains vitamins A, which is good for normal vision, immunity, reproduction, heart, lungs, and kidneys among other organs. It also has vitamin B6, which is generally good for the body, brain, and the transformation of food into energy.
Like many other species of fish, branzino is high in omega-3 fatty acids, and fish oil. It is also packed with protein, and it is especially rich in the antioxidant selenium. Selenium reduces the risk of certain cancers, protects against heart diseases, boosts immunity, and may reduce asthma symptoms, among other benefits.
Does Branzino Taste Fishy?
Branzino has a delicate, white flesh and a mild, sweet-like flavor. It has small bones, and the best part is that they are also few. Branzino is served either filleted or whole, stuffed with lemons, olives, and herbs such as parsley, fennel, lemongrass, or you can also use chilis and tomatoes.
The branzino fish easily soaks in flavors, and it can be cooked whole by grilling, steaming, or baking. You can bake it at 325 F / 162 C, for around 25 minutes, then leave it for rest for five minutes. Just one fish can feed up to two people, however, you shouldn’t freeze it, as it affects the quality of the fish.
If you want to grill the branzino, it takes just around seven minutes on each side before it is ready. To roast this fish, you need to bake it at 400 F / 200 C, for around 4 minutes on each side. Switch the oven to broil, and cook the branzino for five more minutes, or when its skin begins to blister, and you’re done.
What Fish is Similar to Branzino?
If you really want to try out branzino but have no means to get the fish, you can look for a substitute. You can try out the other members of the Moronidae family, such as the white perch, yellow bass, white bass, or striped bass.
They are easy to find since some of them live in fresh waters, while others in salty ones. They have similar flavors and textures. Other substitutes for branzino include:
- Atlantic croaker
- Black sea bass
- Rainbow smelt
- Rainbow trout
- Sea trout
- Red snapper
These fish are very similar to branzino, being white, lean, and flaky. Those that come the closest to its particular light, and mild flavor, are the ones which are also part of the Moronidae family.
Did You Know?
– Since branzino is available in so many countries, the fish is known by many names, such as European seabass, common bass, capemouth, king of the mullets, sea bass, sea dace, sea perch, white mullet, white salmon, loup de mer, biban de mare, lubin, lavraki, or simply bass.
– The European bass was among the very first types of fish to be farmed commercially in Europe, being historically cultured in coastal lagoons, and tidal reservoirs.
– The countries that are mostly farming this fish are Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Croatia, and Egypt. In 2010, the annual production was reported to be at around 120,000 tones.
– The pressure from commercial fishing has led many countries to farm-raise the European bass, and as such, it is most likely that you will eat in a restaurant a farm-raised branzino, rather than a wild-caught one.
– A whole, scaled, and gutted branzino fish that weighs around 1 lb / 0.45 kg, might cost you around $16.00.