The first time I ever saw a whole fish cooked on the bone was in the kitchen at Vetri. I came from the school of medium-rare cooking, and it was an eye-opener to watch fish cooked well past this point. What I quickly learned was that cooking protein on the bone adds flavor as well as insulating the meat so that it doesn’t dry out. I wrap the fish in grape leaves to keep the flesh moist in the oven. The leaves come packed in brine, and their salt and acidity help to season the fish as it cooks. The grape leaves get super crispy in the hot oven and make addictive chips to snack on. We used to have this fish on the menu at Zahav, but it would bury the kitchen every time an order came in. The dish is better prepared at home, where you have the time to give it the attention it deserves and where it will make a big impression on your guests. More guests? Roast more fish!
1 whole branzino or other similar whole fish (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (1 bunch)
15 large grape leaves
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Salt the fish well (inside and out) and stuff the cavity with the lemon quarters and dill. Arrange the leaves in a rectangle nearly as long and twice as wide as the fish and place the fish in the center. Wrap the fish tightly in the grape leaves, overlapping them to help seal the fish, and transfer to the lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the leaves.
Bake until the fish is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. (Poke a knife into the flesh to make sure it’s cooked.) Peel the crisp leaves off the fish and set aside. With a knife and a spoon, pull the skin from the fish and discard. Then, gently remove the fillets from the bones. Drizzle the fillets with olive oil and more salt and serve with the reserved grape leaves.
Excerpted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, ©2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
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