Branzino That Is Delectable Artwork from Chef Alessandro Pirozzi
Branzino has become an everyday staple on upscale restaurant menus. The delicate, white-fleshed Mediterranean seabass (called “loup de mer” on French menus) tastes almost sweet when cooked correctly. Orange County chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pirozzi knows how to serve it at its very best.
He showcases the mild-mannered fish in different ways in each of his restaurants (Alessa By Pirozzi and Salerno by Chef Pirozzi in Laguna Beach, as well as Pirozzi Corona del Mar). I like them all, but my very favorite is his Branzino al Piatto at Salerno. A boneless skinless filet is lightly pounded and quickly cooked on a plate.
The straight-forward way it is broiled lets the delicious taste and texture of the fish shine through. Then he adds garnishes that dazzle the eye with pure colors that are reminiscent of a Henri Matisse painting.
There’s a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil, a sprinkling of black salt flakes and honey-colored spheres of olive oil pearls.
A scattering of tiny pickled sweet peppers, rounded at one end and sharply pointed at the other, offer a pleasing contrast. A gentle squeeze of fresh lemon juice brings vibrancy, while a pinch of fennel pollen and a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of diced avocado bring richness.
Thinly sliced rainbow radishes and carrots grace the lip of the plate, along with a couple of crisp crostini. Confetti flowers, small edible petals in a wide variety of colors and shapes, flutter atop it all.
Pirozzi says that the colorful flower mixture is the “parsley of the future.”
Artistic and Handy: He loves to weld and create something out of nothing. He cuts the metal, then bends it and welds it together. He made all the wine racks and many art pieces in his restaurants’ dining rooms.
Collections: He collects salt, honey and extra-virgin olive oils from around the globe.
Branzino al Piatto
Yield: 2 servings
Two (3- to 4-ounce) boneless, skinless branzino filets
2 rectangular oven-proof plates
4 sheets nonstick wrap
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Calabrian chili oil or Asian chili oil, see cook’s notes
Small pickled sweet peppers, see cook’s notes
Black salt flakes, see cook’s notes
Squeeze fresh lemon juice
Optional: pinch of fennel pollen
1/2 diced avocado
Garnish: a few slices of Calabrian chili, small teardrop tomatoes, thinly sliced rainbow carrots, rainbow radish, microgreens, pesticide-free fresh flower petals (edible “confetti” flowers preferred), crostini
Optional: olive oil pearls, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Jars of Tutto Calabria Hot Long Italian Chili Peppers in Oil are available at www.amazon.com; you can use the oil (just a small drizzle) and a sliced chili in this recipe). Black salt flakes, fennel pollen and olive oil pearls are also available on the Site. I found the small sweet peppers in the cheese section at Bristol Farms Market in tiny jars (labeled “petite poivrons”).
To make crostini, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange thin slices of baguette slices on rimmed baking sheet; brush both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, and season with salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through (if undersides are not browning, turn crostini over once during baking).
1. Adjust oven rack to 5- to 6-inches below broiler element. Preheat broiler.
2. Drizzle a tiny bit of oil on rimmed baking sheet. Top with sheet of nonstick wrap (plastic wrap). Top with 1 fillet (put the side that had the skin, the darker side, facing up). Drizzle with a little oil and top with a sheet of nonstick wrap. Gently pound using a mallet or bottom of a pan, making the fillet about 1/3 bigger. Remove top plastic wrap and use the bottom plastic wrap to transfer to a rectangular ovenproof plate; remove plastic wrap. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil. Repeat with second branzino.
3. Broil 2 minutes in preheated oven. Use a fork to pull apart a tiny area in center to check for doneness. If fish isn’t opaque and white in center, give plates a turn (careful the plates are hot) and broil an additional 45 seconds or so. Remove from oven and place plates on a folded towel.
4. Sprinkle with a smidgen of Calabrian chili oil and a few slices of Calabrian chilies. Scatter tiny sweet chilies on top, a tiny touch of freshly ground black pepper, black salt flakes, a little fresh lemon juice and diced avocado. Top with microgreens and, if using, olive oil pearls. Arrange teardrop tomatoes, crostini and thinly sliced carrots on side of plate. Top with a generous amount of edible confetti flowers. Crisscross 2 crostini at one end.
Alessa By Pirozzi, 234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach 949-497-8222
Pirozzi Corona del Mar, 2929 East Coast Hwy, Newport Beach 949-675-2932
Salerno By Chef Pirozzi, 220 N Beach St, Laguna Beach 949-497-2600
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
Chopped Greek salad augmented with cooked chicken breast makes a delicious lunch or healthful dinner. Or substitute grilled salmon for the chicken for a tasty alternative.
Chopped Greek Chicken Salad
Yield: 4 (3 cups each) servings
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or oregano
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 6 cups chopped (in bite-sized pieces) romaine lettuce
2 1/2 cups cooked boneless-skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium tomatoes, cut into large dice
1/4 hothouse cucumber, skin removed in alternating strips, halved lengthwise and cut into half-moon slices
1/3 cup slivers of red onion
1/2 cup (generous) halved (lengthwise) pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Optional: croutons (rustic bread lightly brushed with olive oil, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and toasted in 350-degree oven)
1. Whisk vinegar, oil, dill or oregano, garlic salt and pepper together in large bowl.
2. Add remaining ingredients and gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Melissa’s Produce: Fresh Fruit, Vegetables, and Gift Baskets. Organic produce and specialty produce (such as baby vegetables, edible flowers, Okinawa sweet potatoes, coquitos, banana leaves, steamed lentils, bhut jolokia chiles, organic juice boxes and a large variety of peppers). https://www.melissas.com