I love roasting fish whole. The preparation is simple and the results outweigh the minimal effort. You just need to have a willing audience – willing to stare their dinner in the eye, and willing to tackle the bones as they eat.
It’s relatively easy to find whole fish at most fish markets. Ask them to scale the fish for you, trim the fins and tail, and remove the gills. This dish will work well with many kinds of fish. Pictured is a Daurade (Sea Bream) imported from the Mediterranean. These fish have become more common in recent years with the rise in aquaculture. They are farm raised in Greece and shipped here quickly so they are usually very reliably fresh. Another excellent imported farm-raised fish is the Branzino which is a Mediterranean Sea Bass.
Other fish to try are Red Snapper, Black Sea Bass, Farm-Raised Striped Bass, and Domestic Sea Bream, also known as Porgies.
The preparation is the same for all. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper, and a light drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Stuff the cavity with fresh or dried herbs (I like thyme and fresh bay leaves if you can find them) and slices of lemon and tomato. Place on an oiled baking sheet or baking dish, and roast in the oven at 400F for about 10 to 15 minutes.
The best way to tell if it’s done is an old trick I learned in restaurants over the years – you pull on the finbone closest to the head of the fish. You should just barely be able to pull it away from the flesh. This makes alot of sense since if you can’t pull it away it means the flesh is still raw at that point (try pulling a bone from a raw fish and you’ll see what I mean), and if you can pull it away too easily it means the resistance is gone and it’s overcooked.
Drizzle the fish with some more EVOO and you’re ready to serve. You don’t really need a sauce with this, but here are a couple suggestions:
When you remove the fish from the oven and transfer it to your serving dish, pour a little white or rose wine into the baking dish, place it on a burner, and scrape up any bits that may have stuck to the dish while letting the wine reduce a little. Add a knob of butter if desired and serve on the side or pour over the fish.
Alternately you could prepare a light beurre blanc (see my beurre blanc post of March 15, 2008 for a recipe) and flavor it with capers and lemon, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
Also in the photo you can see a lovely row of baked Provencale Vegetables on the platter with the Daurade. This makes an excellent accompaniment. Rather than give an exact recipe I’ll just describe how they’re made:
Saute some sliced onions and red peppers in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and chopped garlic to tatse, and spread over the bottom of a baking dish. Slice zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, and eggplant into uniform slices, then layer (alternating the colors) on top of the pepper onion mixture. Season the whole with salt and pepper, drizzle generously with EVOO, and add some chopped fresh thyme. Cover with foil, and bake at 350F for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Uncover the foil and bake another 10 minutes or so until they are slightly browned on top.
I hope you’ll try these dishes – and if you do, I hope you enjoy them. Comments and feedback are always welcome.