Renieri “Ren” Caceres, Executive Chef at Rustica at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, finesses irresistible flavor and texture into his dishes.
After I tasted his delectable crispy-skin branzino fillet, I pleaded with him to teach me how he does it. I’m not the first to ask. He told me that guests ask him on a regular basis how he gets the fish skin so evenly, so perfectly potato-chip crisp.
Branzino is a Mediterranean sea bass with shimmery silver skin. Caceres says that other skin-on fillets can be substituted, such as red snapper, striped sea bass or black bass.
He accompanies the fish with a wide variety of season-based sauces. For spring he often makes his version of Barigoule Sauce, an herbaceous concoction that teams baby carrots, cipolline onions and baby artichokes with a white wine-chicken broth reduction scented with fresh thyme and parsley.
Home cooks might want to serve the fish in a simpler way, accompanied with a wedge of lemon and some sautéed spinach.
Caceres’ prestigious culinary background includes work with Chef Julian Serrano at the famed San Francisco restaurant Masa, with whom he helped open Las Vegas’ Picasso Restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.
Rustica’s Crispy Skin Branzino with Artichokes, Carrots and Barigoule Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
8 baby artichoke hearts
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 chopped carrots
1/4 bunch chopped celery with leaves
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bunch Globe baby carrots, trimmed, peeled, see cook’s notes
4 each Cipolline onions, trimmed, peeled
4 branzino fillets, about 8 ounces each
Kosher salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Final addition to sauce: 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 bunch chopped Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: A Globe carrot is a variety that is short and squatty, about 1 1/2 to 2-inches long. Another carrot variety can be substituted.
1. Trim artichokes: Use sharp knife (not carbon steel) to cut off stem at base and cut off top 1/4- to 1/2-inch leaves. Remove and discard outer leaves; bend them back until they snap and the edible portion at bottom will stay intact. Trim sides of base with paring knife as if peeling an apple. Cut in half lengthwise; set aside.
2. Prepare Barigoule Sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine olive oil, chopped carrots, chopped celery and chopped onion. Cook slowly on low heat until vegetables are tender. Add white wine, broth, bay leaf, thyme and artichokes. Cook on medium-low until artichokes are tender; using a slotted spoon remove the artichokes and set them aside to cool. Continue to cook mixture on medium-high heat until liquid is reduced by half in volume. Strain using a sieve and reserve liquid; discard vegetables.
3. Prepare the garnish: Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add Globe carrots and Cipolline onions; blanch until just barely fork tender; drain. Cut carrots in half lengthwise. Cut onions in half from top to bottom. Cut each artichoke half into 4 quarters. Set aside.
4. Prepare fish: Season both sides of each branzino fillet with kosher salt but only the meat side with white pepper. In a large sauté pan, allow 1/4 cup oil to heat on high heat. Add fillets skin-side down (pay close attention to place the filet into the pan away from you on the side opposite you, to avoid splashing yourself with hot oil). Cook about 2 minutes (fish will curl up a little), then press down each fillet with spatula to make it flat. Lower heat to medium-low; cook about 3 minutes, or until flesh around the edges is totally opaque. Turn fish and allow to cook “for just a kiss” – about 10 seconds to make it opaque.
5. Meanwhile, complete the sauce. Place the prepped carrots, artichokes and onions in a medium sauté pan with 1/2 cup of Barigoule cooking liquid and butter. Simmer, shaking the handle of the pan, until butter is incorporated into the sauce. Stir in parsley. Place on rimmed platter. Top with fish fillets, skin-side up. If desired, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Serve.
Source: Executive Chef Ren Caceres, Rustica, Fashion Island, Newport Beach
Globe carrots and baby artichokes.