Trader Joe’s Branzino: a Little Light on the Bass

I find a great deal on seafood every time I visit a Trader Joe’s. It is a relatively pain-free why to experiment with different seafood and get out our your comfort zone. Even when I’m disappointed in the final outcome, I can feel relieved that it didn’t cost me much. Those rainbow trout fillets I made only set me back a few bucks the last time so no harm, no foul. It’s never planned when I visit a TJ’s, but I was in the area not long ago so I grabbed a jar of the best Dijon mustard around and a package of frozen Branzino fillets.

What is Branzino?

branzino package

Branzino is the Italian common name for the European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax). This fish goes by many local and marketing names like sea dace, white bass or sea perch. UK readers will mostly know this fish simply as sea bass. Branzino is by far the sexiest of the various names for European sea bass, like all things Italian. American consumers will almost exclusively see it under this name. This is a different type of rebranding than “marketing” names like Chilean sea bass (actually a toothfish/icefish) since Branzino is an actual common name for this species. Branzino can stand out in the marketplace from striped bass or black sea bass thanks to its somewhat exotic sounding name.

The term “sea bass” or “seabass” is an ambiguous term already, with several other species sold under that name. Most sea bass are not closely related species but have certain similar characteristics. Many of these fish also share similarities when prepared. Fish sold as sea bass tend to have white or whitish, somewhat flaky meat with a mildly sweet taste.

The Branzino most Americans will encounter are farm raised in the Mediterranean region. European sea bass was one of the first successes in large-scale commercial aquaculture. Today it is the most important farm-raised fish for countries like Turkey and Greece. A smaller wild fishery exists as well in the Mediterranean, especially in Egypt and along the French Atlantic coast.

About Trader Joe’s Branzino

thawed branzino fillets

Trader Joe’s sources its Branzino from farms in Turkey, but does not list the company or what type of aquaculture method is used. Most, if not all the Branzino imported to the US comes from Turkish farms, most of which raise the fish in ocean net-pens.

I paid $9.99 for my 1-pound package of frozen, skin-on fillets. I was disappointment when I opened the attractive package to find 5 small fillets. I did not like getting an odd-number of fillets nor the fact they needed 2.5 fish to make up a pound.

The fish was in good condition after an overnight thaw in the fridge. I just wish those fillets were thicker. It looks like I’ll be eating just as much skin as actual sea bass. I was afraid of overcooking these thin fillets so I decided to do a quick pan-sear. I grabbed some lemons, oranges, capers to make a variant of the popular Grenobloise sauce and dinner was done in a heartbeat. It looked fantastic, but how did it taste?

The Verdict

The Branzino was OK I guess, especially for the price, but the fillets were too small and thin. I would have preferred 2-4 larger fillets for a better meat/skin ratio. I was expecting an experience similar to the black sea bass I prepared before, but it was not quite there.

branzino grenoblois

It wasn’t all bad, but could have been better. The Branzino flesh is very mild and slightly flaky, much like other fish sold as sea bass. The flavor was close, but there really wasn’t much meat on these fillets and I was tasting more of the skin than the very mild fish. The skin did crisp up but did not taste as good as the wild caught black sea bass or striped bass I’ve had. My instincts on the bright citrus “Grenobloise” style sauce were correct. This is just what a mild fish like Branzino begs for.

I can understand why restaurants usually serve whole Branzino. The skin/flesh ratio on these smaller fish was not to my liking; I bet a whole fish would come out much better. I wouldn’t shy away from making TJ’s Branzino again, but I will be a little more diligent in checking out the package first. If you want to try Trader Joe’s Branzino I suggest choosing a package with 2-3 larger fillets for a better experience.