Every few years an obscure fish is plucked from the deep, rechristened, and anointed a star. Consider Chilean sea bass (a.k.a. Patagonian toothfish), black cod (sablefish), and skate (stingray). Now it’s branzino—formerly known as Mediterranean sea bass.
No fewer than a dozen popular restaurants are serving this mild white fish, typically stuffing it with herbs and grilling it whole. BlackSalt chef/owner Jeff Black attributes the trend in part to the sexier name but also to the fact that it’s now farmed for sustainability, which has lowered the wholesale price.
Farm-raised branzino lacks some of the character of wild branzino, but its milder taste seems to have made it more popular with customers than wild-caught ever was.
“Anytime you farm a fish, it’s going to have an impact on the flavor,” says Black. “People will tell you it doesn’t, but that’s not true. Is it so profound that you wouldn’t eat the fish?” The numbers say apparently not.
This appeared in the April, 2009 issue of the Washingtonian.