Roasted Branzini & Brussel Sprouts
I love dinner parties (clearly). And in spite of the fact that I've thrown hundreds in my life, I still get a little nervous having people over if I don't have time to prep in advance. I hate feeling rushed, which is why I try to get as much done ahead of time as possible. For me, entertaining is the most fun when the apartment is clean, the food is more or less prepped, and I can actually sit down and have a drink with guests when they arrive. Of course in reality, things never go quite as smoothly as I plan–I can't tell you how many times I've jumped in the shower and heard the doorbell ring! But if there's one thing I've learned from entertaining, it's this: if you're short on prep time, Keep. It. Simple. Your friends aren't expecting you to recreate The French Laundry in your apartment. If anything, they'll be happy to get a home cooked meal and will love whatever you prepare.[recipe:best-roasted-branzino-brussels-sprouts-recipe]
So when Brandon asked me the other day if some friends could come over for dinner, I hesitated, as it was a day where I'd literally be getting home at the same time they'd be arriving. I seriously considered ordering takeout. But then I thought about it a bit more and gave myself a little pep talk. (I'm not Thomas Keller, etc.) And I realized that I could cook a beautiful, simple meal in the same amount of time it would take to wait on a pizza delivery. I came up with a game plan: I'd run by the grocery on my way home, then throw together a little appetizer platter (I already had some cheese, crackers, charcuterie, and olives on hand) for everyone to munch on when they arrived. For the meal, I decided to make roasted branzini (Mediterranean sea bass) stuffed with lemon and thyme, roasted Brussels sprouts, and roasted baby potatoes–the prep is minimal and everything cooks together in a 425 degree oven. Which would give me time to sit and have a leisurely glass of wine with my friends. Perfect!
I find that a lot of people are intimidated by whole fish. They're not sure how to cook them, and how to get the bones out afterwards. Or maybe they're just creeped out by the eyes staring back at them. Nonetheless, roasting whole fish is so easy. You can ask the fishmonger to scale the fish and remove the guts, so all you have to do is stuff the cavity with herbs and thinly sliced lemons, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven. Buying whole fish is much cheaper than buying fillets ($11.99/lb. for whole branzini versus $24.99/lb. for sea bass fillets), but the best part of all is the flavor. Roasting fish on the bones keeps the flesh moist, and it takes on the taste and aroma of whatever herbs you've stuffed inside the cavity. The bones are a bit tricky, as there always seem to be a few tiny ones mixed in even after deboning–just eat carefully and you should be fine.
In the end (despite my initial fears), the dinner was fun and relaxed. I put out the hors d'oeuvres, poured some wine, and one of my friends helped me assemble the fish and Brussels sprouts. We had everything in the oven in about 10 minutes, and we all headed up to the roof. When we came downstairs 25 minutes later, the apartment smelled heavenly and dinner was done! My challenge to you this weekend is this: go out and buy a whole fish (or two or three). Follow the recipe below–it's completely non-intimidating–and invite some friends over. No more excuses, just try it. You'll be hooked.