A recipe for fish in a crispy crust

Leah Eskin
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Sliced bread never struck me as news. Frankly, I’d presumed that “greatest thing since” trope to be satiric.

What’s so great about sliced bread? Isn’t it baked in a factory and engineered to slide into the toaster slot? Isn’t whole bread — the lumpy, crackly, outsized loaf — the real thing?

Then I tried slicing. The idea was to recreate a restaurant dish: branzino en croute. The croute — or crust — being a plank of soft white bread. I had to a) find a loaf that wasn’t sliced and b) slice it myself, the long way, thinly.

Neither task proved simple. But the results were crisp and delicious and, given that I carved my plank into a smiling branzino, sweet. Greatest thing — no kidding — since deboned fish.

Branzino en Croute

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

2 branzino fillets (6 ounces each), skin off and pin bones removed (see note)

Kosher salt

1 loaf white sandwich bread, or pain de mie, unsliced

1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water

Canola oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 pound spinach, sauteed

Season: Sprinkle both sides of each fillet with salt. Set aside.

Slice: Create two planks of bread. Slice the crust away from one long side of the loaf. Turn the loaf onto

this naked (and flat, stable) side.

Slice away the crust from what was originally the bottom of the loaf. Now slice a plank, 1/4-inch thick, from what was originally the bottom of the loaf. Repeat. Now you’ve got two planks, each 1/4-inch thick, about 4 inches wide and 8 to 10 inches long. Trim remaining crusts from these planks. If you like, carve the planks (using a knife or kitchen scissors), into fish shape. Save the rest of the loaf for small toast or crumbs. (If your loaf of bread is uncooperatively soft, freeze for 20 minutes.)

If you lack an unsliced loaf and a little concentration, grab a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Very Thin White and trim the crusts from 6 slices. Line up 2 sets of 3 as planks.

Stack: Brush one side of each bread plank lightly with the egg wash. Set one fillet on each plank, pressing lightly to adhere fish to bread.

Crisp: Set a wide skillet over medium heat. Pour in canola oil to coat the skillet. When hot, set the two fish-topped planks, bread side down, in the oil. Crisp to a golden brown, 2-3 minutes.

Flip: Drop the butter into the skillet. Turn the planks fish-side down and sizzle until crisp and cooked through, 3-4 minutes.

Serve: Set each plank on a plate, bread-side up. Sprinkle with salt. Add a heap of sauteed spinach. Devour.

Note: Branzino, European sea bass, is often sold whole. Choose a 2-pounder and ask the fish guy to fillet, skin and pull out the pin bones. If your fillets come up short of 6 ounces, decrease cooking time.

At Fork Restaurant in Philadelphia, this dish is served with artichokes, clams, charred broccoli, rice cakes and a spiced tamarind sauce. Here the recipe is streamlined to its essentials.