Saffron Lemon Branzino

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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 50 min
  • Active: 25 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Iranians love eating fish with rice to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian new year. It’s an old tradition honored by Iranians living in other countries, too. A white fish is the classic choice; both branzino and Mediterranean sea bass (lavaraki) work well. The fish is flavored with saffron and lemon and stuffed with an onion, walnut, herb and pomegranate molasses filling. Sabzi polo (Persian herb rice) is the perfect accompaniment.



Special equipment:
6 toothpicks
  1. Preheat the oven to 420 degrees F with a rack in the middle position. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Place the saffron and ice in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature until the ice melts. This will be your saffron water.  
  3. Using a sharp knife, cut 5 or 6 slits, 1 inch apart, through the skin and flesh of each fish on one side. Salt and pepper both sides of the fish and set aside. 
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1 minute more.  
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the parsley, walnuts, pomegranate molasses, turmeric, 1 tablespoon of the saffron water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set the onion filling aside.  
  6. Stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the remaining lemon juice and the remaining saffron water in a small bowl. Brush the insides of the fish with some of this saffron-lemon mixture, then stuff the cavities with the onion filling. Seal the cavities shut using 3 toothpicks along each open edge. Brush the top of the fish with some of the saffron and lemon mixture, then transfer the fish to the prepared sheet pan.  
  7. Bake for 10 minutes. Brush the top of the fish with some of the saffron mixture, then bake until cooked through and the flesh flakes easily, about 15 minutes more (see Cook’s Note). Remove the sheet pan from the oven and turn on the broiler. 
  8. Brush the top of the fish with more of the saffron lemon mixture, then broil until the skin is golden and somewhat crispy, 3 to 5 minutes; keep a close eye to make sure the tops don’t burn. Remove the toothpicks and serve with sabzi polo (see Cook’s Note).

Cook’s Note

The cooking time may vary, depending on the size of the fish. The branzino are fully cooked when the internal temperature registers 145 degrees F; the flesh will be white and will flake easily when you pull at it with a fork. White fish usually has a lot of bones, so be careful when eating it.