Ahh, the whole roasted fish. It is perfect in its simplicity — not much prep work, absolutely delicious, and fun to present.
The other day, my fishmonger offered me a variety of fresh choices, but my eyes lit up when he told me that he had some beautiful red snappers from the Gulf of Mexico.
I love a red snapper — but not just any fish will do, so let’s talk about what to look for when selecting a whole fish: First off, always buy a wild variety. Farm-raised fish, such as tilapia and smaller striped bass, have a muddy flavor and are always lacking the briny quality that only the sea can offer.
Your local fish market can get just about any whole fish in season. Red snapper, bronzino, Humpback Porgies, and black fish are just a few that you can find this time of the year.
Next, when you get the fish, check the eyes, which should not be cloudy; the gills, which should be nice and red; the flesh, which should be firm, and the smell, which should be non-existent.
Also, have the monger “dress” the fish for you. This means scaled and gutted.
OK, let’s cook.
Whole red snapper with roasted vegetables
Yields two portions
1 3- to 3-1/2-pound fish, scaled, gutted and de-finned
1 cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh thyme, half of it chopped
1 bunch fresh rosemary, half of it chopped
1 tbls. fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
3 medium potatoes, quartered
1 tsp. paprika
3 jumbo carrots, quartered
3 zucchinis, quartered
1 tbs. brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Clean out the fish’s cavity by running it under cold water to take out anything that may be left behind. Pat dry with a towel.
Place the fish on a baking pan, and cut four to five slits down the sides, starting behind the gills plate and ending at the tail. Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper. Stuff the fish with half of the fresh herbs and a half of lemon.
Spread the cut part of the belly and place it back on the baking pan so it stands up. Slice another lemon into very thin half moons and place a slice in each of the slits on the fish.
In a bowl, add 3/4 cup olive oil, one tablespoon of the chopped rosemary, two tablespoons of the chopped parsley, two tablespoons of the chopped thyme, garlic, juice from one lemon, two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper and mix well.
Brush this herb mixture onto the fish and pop it in the oven.
Toss the potatoes with two tablespoons of olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Lay those out on a pan, skin side down, and put those in the same oven. Toss the carrots in two tablespoons of olive oil, brown sugar, salt and pepper, and pop those in the oven. Check your fish while you’re in the oven because he probably needs to be brushed again with the oil and herb mixture.
Toss the zucchini with the remaining oil, balsamic vinegar, the rest of the chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Pop that in the oven.
The fish should take about 40 minutes the potatoes and the carrots about the same time. The zucchini only needs about 15 minutes. So time this correctly so that all the food is ready at once.
Brush the fish about every 10 minutes or so. You will know when it is ready when the thickest parts of the fish, the shoulders, are firm to the touch.
Serve on a platter garnished with the roasted veggies, lemon and any extra fresh herbs you may have left over.
Joe Raiola is the executive chef at Morton’s The Steakhouse [339 Adams St. between Willoughby and Tillary streets in Downtown, (718) 596-2700].