Pan-Seared Branzino, Cucumber Salmoriglio, Borage Blossoms
Here we are on the sparkling azure Mediterranean. I’m in the cucina with Chefs Norma and Debi, cooking for opening day of our virtual ristorante Ciao Fiore! Norma is in the process making ricotta fresca for the extravagant antipasti tavola, and Debi is using sodium alginate and calcium chloride to craft the strawberry caviar which will top her lavender & mascarpone panna cotta as a part of the fabulous dessert course.
My job is to execute the main course, and with the risotto already done, imagine my delight as the fishing boat pulled up to the dock, loaded with just-caught branzino! Fresh from the sea pan-seared fillets will be served with salmoriglio, a Sicilian fish sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. For our grand opening, this particular version of the classic sauce will be enhanced with Meyer lemon confit, red chiles, cucumber, and Castelvetrano olives. Borage blossoms will finish the dish, with their sweet cucumber flavor accenting the sauce while their bright blue hue mirrors the sea.
Pan-Seared Branzino Recipe
I have the fishermen de-scale and gut the branzino. First, I sharpen my knife. Next, I make a perpendicular cut just behind the pectoral fin. Then starting near the head, make a one inch incision all the way down the back to the tail, as close to the backbone as possible.
Using the tip of the knife, in a smooth motion, continue to cut the flesh away from the bones all the way to the belly of the fish. Slice the flesh away from the tail fin. Don’t worry if the edges are not perfectly smooth. The fillets shrink while cooking and the edges end up looking fine. Flip the fish over and fillet the other side.
Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Dust with Wondra (finely milled) flour. Shake off excess flour. Let the fillets come close to room temperature before cooking.
Heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the fillets, skin-side down. Turn the heat to medium high to prevent the oil from smoking. Press the flesh of the fish with the back of a spatula to keep the fish from curling. Continue to press down with the spatula, squeezing out any air pockets between the skin and the flesh. When the skin side is nice and crisp, turn the fillets over and briefly cook the other side. Serve immediately, crispy skin-side up.
Cucumber Salmoriglio and Salad Recipes
4 T. olive oil
3 T. meyer lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 t. dried oregano
3/4 t. finely chopped thyme
1/3 c. small dice cucumber (no seeds)
1 T. fine dice meyer lemon confit (recipe here)
1 small finely sliced red chile pepper (no seeds)
handful of castelvetrano olives, whole
sea salt to taste
Whisk the first five ingredients together. Gently stir in the cucumber and preserved lemon.
Season to taste. (Add the olives after dressing the salad).
medium dice cucumber (no seeds)
Toss all four ingredients together. Lightly dress the salad with salmoriglio.
Plating the Branzino Course
Place a few thinly sliced Meyer lemon wheels on the plate. Top with the salad.
Place the branzino over the salad, skin-side up. Ladle salmoriglio over the fish.
Garnish with borage blossoms.
The Sommelier at Ciao Fiore! recommends enjoying the branzino with a crisp dry white wine.
She suggests a Maso Canali 2009 Pinot Grigio from Trentino’s finest hillside vineyards.
It’s well-balanced with light citrus aromas, fresh acidity, and a long clean finish.
Update: Now view the entire restaurant, the fabulous dishes,
plus the lovely seaside terrace and gardens here!