Sea bream with vegetables (Orata al forno)

This is another dish we had at the Ligurian coast that I recreated at home: sea bream roasted in the oven with vegetables. It is quite easy to do: you only have to find the freshest sea bream you can find and learn how to take the fish off the bone once it’s cooked. Use an instant-read digital thermometer with a probe to always cook the fish just right: tender and very juicy. Especially if it was very fresh (and not frozen). Fish should never be overcooked as it will be dry, but nobody likes undercooked fish either. Taggiasca olives are my favorite olives. They come from Liguria and are small but also packed with taste.

Ingredients

For 2 servings

1 sea bream (450-600 grams, 1 – 1 1/3 pounds), gutted with head on but gills removed (they give off a bitter flavor)

1 red bell pepper

1 zucchini (courgette)

2 carrots

fresh flatleaf parsley

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp black pitted olive, preferably taggiasca

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lemon

Preparation

Clean the vegetables and cut in large julienne (strips). Parboil the carrots and zucchini strips separately for 5 minutes in salted water, since they won’t cook as fast as the fish does. You don’t need to parboil the bell pepper, but you could if you like.

Preheat the oven to 225C/450F.

Drizzle some olive oil in a baking dish and spread out the vegetables in a single layer. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with some more olive oil.

Wash the fish under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels, inside and out. Put the garlic in the belly of the fish with some parsley and a slice of lemon. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper and rub it with olive oil. Put it on top of the vegetables.

Insert the probe of an instant-read digital oven thermometer into the thickest part of the fish. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil to keep all the moisture in.

Roast the fish in the oven to a core temperature of 50C/122F. This will take 30-45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil.

You can now easily take off the skin and take the upper fillet off the bones. This is the first serving, put it on a warm plate. Now take off the bones and it will be even easier to transfer the lower fillet to another warm plate for the second serving.

Serve with the vegetables and a slice of lemon. Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly chopped flatleaf parsley.

Wine pairing

This is outstanding with any medium-bodied unoaked Italian dry white. Use Pigato or Vermentino from Liguria if you’d like to stay in the region, but Soave, Gavi, Arneis or Erbaluce will all work as well.

4 thoughts on “Sea bream with vegetables (Orata al forno)

  1. I’m debating with my wife right now about the pros and cons of cooking and eating fish with all the bits still attached. SHe just shook her head and said no way (she’s pescatarian but only just). Shame as this dish looks like something I could deal with although I do have an aversion to dead fish (ie those with the head and eys staring at you) – it looks as good if not better than the version they served up to you in Liguria!

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    1. The fish will taste better if cooked like this. If you ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish for you instead, the fish will deteriorate much faster as well.
      As a compromise, you could cook the fish with skin and bones but without the head (avoiding the evil stare!) and then you take it off the bones for your wife so she doesn’t have to deal with that. I guarantee it will be much better than using fillets.

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