Branzino and Orata – Try them!

Branzino and Orata are delicious.  They are also very popular here in Italy.  Indeed, they are considered something of a delicacy.  You really should try them.

Do you know what Branzino and Orata are?  Well, if you do, you can stop reading now – even if you might like to take a peek – just to be sure.

On the other hand, if you have no idea whatsoever what the blazes Branzino and Orata are, then please keep reading.  It’ll be worth your while, I assure you.

I love both of them!

The other day I went to a local restaurant with some friends.  Two of these friends are not based in Italy, although they have been here a number of times.

Being the friendly type that I sometimes am, I attempted to help them decide what to order by explaining what the various dishes were.  However the words Branzino and Orata caused problems.  Actually, the word Orata caused even more problems than Branzino.

Memory Failed me.

Firstly, I could not remember the translation of ‘Orata’, which  annoyed me greatly, as I have had Orata numerous times.  Branzino is ‘Seabass’, in case you were wondering, and both Branzino and Orata are types of fish.

Translation Was No Help!

After having failed on the Orata translation front, I think I messed up the translation of Branzino too – and I said it was sea bream.  It is not, Branzino is sea bass.

An Orata fish

An Orata fish

Despite doing my best to confuse Jessica and Chris, I know that they have been to Italy on at least three occasions so far, and I know too that they have had a good wander around Italy as well. For some reason though, they had not eaten Branzino and Orata before.  Or rather, they had seen them on menus, but had had no idea what they were, and, as you do, had steered well clear of them, again, as you do.  Such a shame, because Branzino and Orata are very highly regarded in Italy.

Put Down That Dictionary!

Now, before you go lunging for that dictionary, don’t.  If you have picked it up, put the thing down -now!  Don’t worry what the translation of Orata is – it is actually Gilthead (Thanks Mr Plotkin!).  Actually, you may well be non the wiser for knowing.   There’s a much, much better way.  Just go and taste it!

After having sampled both Orata and Branzino, I think you may well find that ‘Orata’ and ‘Branzino’ will become a part of your Italian influenced vocabulary -along with the likes of ‘pasta’, ‘lasagne’, and ‘spaghetti’.

Remember, Branzino and Orata. Note that ‘Branzino’ is also known as ‘spigola’ or ‘ragno’ in other parts of Italy according to Wikipedia.

Now that Jessica and Chris know that Branzino is Sea bass, and that Orata (Gilthead) tastes pretty good, I imagine they will try these two fish another time.

The next time you are in Italy, either on holiday or on business, if you see Branzino/spigola/ragno next to the word ‘sale‘ – salt – on a menu, order it.  Similarly, should you notice ‘Orata’ close to the word ‘griglia‘ – grilled, do not hesitate for a nano second -point at the words on the menu and say ‘Questo’.

Honestly, whether you are a fish fan or not, I very much doubt that you will regret your decision.

If you stick to pasta and pizza while you are in Italy, you will miss out on a lot, believe me.

Orata photo by Alex Roe.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m so glad to hear this, as I loved the food in Italy, and certainly didn’t eat only pasta or pizza. I’d also sometimes order a couple of contorni instead of meat or fish, because I like to eat vegetable-heavy and meat-light. However true vegetarians (which I’m not, I love fish for one thing) would have to watch out for meat stocks or little bits of ham or pancetta in their veg.

    Fish names are notoriously difficult to translate, as there are so many local variations. Sometimes searching for the scientific name and going from there can be the best approach. Google translating into French, I got a very generic “brème” (bream) for orata, and “loup de mer” for branzino.

    • says

      Italian menu items can be fiddly to understand in general, Lagatta – but others know this, so books like the one I wrote about here exist: http://italychronicles.com/you-need-italian-menu-guide/

      The scientific or Latin name is one way to get round the problem of understanding what plant and animal names are in English, French and many other languages, I agree and do the same myself.

      There are also apps for smart phones and tablets which can help, as noted in a comment here.

      Best,

      Alex

  2. says

    Where I live, In the Washington DC area I had branzino several times also at non Italian restaurants and it was called branzino but before the article I never knew branzino was spigola.

  3. says

    I’ll attest to the yumminess of orata – since I was the one who ordered it at Alex’s suggestion! But “sea bass” is something we know in English, Alex. What’s interesting about it, however, is that it became something of a “boutique” fish here in the US, and some restaurants were substituting other white fish for sea bass and charging sea bass prices for something that cost them far less. Then, if I recall correctly, there was also something about it being an endangered fish later on, so it’s not on as many menus as it once was.

    Orata, however, I’ll order again. It was light, but still had enough substance that it required chewing (I know that sounds funny, but some of those really light fish have what seems like no substance…).

    • says

      Thanks for the Branzino/sea bass info, Jessica.

      Glad you liked the orata too. Actually, I can’t remember whether I said ‘sea bass’ or ‘sea bream’ – I think I said the latter, which may be why you looked puzzled! My bad!

      I’ll tinker with the article to make it clear that sea bass is known outside Italy – but perhaps not many know that sea bass is branzino/spigola/ragno in Italy.

      Best,

      Alex

  4. says

    They are both staples in the north Adriatic…and therefore in Venice. :)

    One key is to have them cooked whole, it preserves all their delicate flavor. And even if they put it on the plate, leave that lemon alone! Lemon juice will obliterate the fine flavor of these fish – to smother a fish in lemon juice means you think it is no good!

    • says

      You are probably right about the lemon, Nan – the flavour is very subtle.

      Aside from the Orata carpaccio with rosemary and little red pepper corns – very good – I think I’ve always eaten both of these fish whole.

      I do wonder how many visitors to Italy actually try these two though. Those of us who have been in Italy for some time know very well just how good they are.

      All the best from Milan,

      Alex

      • says

        BUON GIORNO ALEX,

        MI IMAGINO CHE TU VIVI E LAVORI A MILANO. LA NOSTRA FAMIGLIA PROVIENE DA BELLA FIRENZE, DEBBO DIRE CHE LA CUCINA TOSCANA E MAGNIFICA , SE NON ALTRO PER LA SUA SQUISITA SIMPLICITA E BONTA. PER QUESTO MI DOMANDO PERCHE A SOUTH BEACH NON RIESCO TROVARE UN BEL PESCE TIPO ORATO O BRANZINO CHE SA DI MARE!
        OGGI PREPARO PER CENA UN BEL RED SNAPPER…. VERRA BENE MA NON HA MAI IL SAPORE DEL NOSTRO PESCE DEL MEDITERREANO… ANY LSUGGESTIONS?

        SE SAI PER CASO COME SI CHIAMA ORATA IN USA, MI FAREBBE PIACERE SAPERLO.. (STESSA FAMIGLIA DEL BRANZINO? )

        GRAZIE PER IL TUO AIUTO…. UN SALUTO DA MIAMI BEACH… GIULIANA MALTAGLIATI

        • says

          Ciao Giuliana,

          Si, vivo a Milano. Sono d’accordo, la cucina Toscana è molto buona :)

          Il nome di Orata in Inglese è Gilthead. Ora puoi andare a cercarlo!

          Buon appetito!

          Alex

  5. says

    Hi Dana – stop looking for a translation! Apparently, Orata is ‘Gilt-Head Bream’ – so it is in the same family as Branzino.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilt-head_bream

    Orata can be found in the Mediterranean and in the North Atlantic too. I guess this means than it may be found in some American or Canadian restaurants.

    Whatever, both fish are lovely – not a strong flavour, as you say.

    Best,

    Alex

  6. says

    Both are very easy to make at home. Local Umbrian way with branzino is to bake it on a bed of finely diced odori (carrot, onion, celery) with salt, oil and lemon slices on top. Takes no time to cook.

    • says

      Fish are, generally, very easy to cook at home. Just pop them under the grill for a few minutes or in the oven, and bingo!

      Things which put me off fish are the bones – but neither Branzino or Orata are annoying in this respect.

      Branzino cooked under a mountain of salt is easy to doo, and very good too.

      The Umbrian way does sound good too.

      Best,

      Alex

  7. says

    Geezzz….I couldn’t agree more. I’m still looking for an appropriate translation. I love orata aqua pazza. I usually just tell people that both are mild light white fish. ciao, dana

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