Saturday, March 28, 2015

Baked whole red snapper with lemons and garlic

The first time I was ever presented with an entire baked fish to eat was in Haiti. I had just landed after a re-routed flight from Capetian to Port-au-Prince then back to Capetian (cattle on the runway, apparently), and was experiencing all kinds of new culture overstimulation just from the ride through the city via tap-tap from the airport to a place to eat. So when my plate turned up and the eyes of a fish were staring right back at me, I was a little stunned as to how to approach the meal. That was the first of many new culinary and cultural experiences in Haiti, and it all turned out better than I could have imagined. I loved the warmth of the people I met and their willingness to introduce me to their country and local customs.

In Australia we baked whole fish quite often. It's very easy to prepare when your fishmonger does the dirty work for you (gutting and descaling), and it always makes for a striking presentation at the table. We often serve it up directly off of the baking paper, but you could also transfer the fish to a platter and surround it with steamed or roasted vegetables.
baked red snapper, fresh from the oven and ready to to eat
The method below simply combines lemon slices, garlic, and some fresh parsley, but feel free to add whatever spices, herbs, or rubs you have on hand. Tomato slices are also delicious when baked in and around the fish. By baking in parchment paper the fish stays very moist while cooking through. Change this recipe up to suit your taste, and enjoy the looks on the faces of your fellow diners when you serve up an entire fish at the table!

Baked whole red snapper with lemons and garlic
Serves 4

1 whole red snapper (about 2 lbs, or 900g), gutted and descaled
1 lemon, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons butter, softened and chopped into chunks
pinch of freshly ground sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 390F / 200C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Tear off another sheet of parchment paper the same size and set aside.

Place about half of the lemon slices and half of the garlic slices onto the paper-lined baking tray, and place the fish on top. Place half of the butter, a few of the lemon slices, half of the parsley, and the remaining garlic slices into the cavity of the fish (where the guts were). Dot the remaining butter over the top of the fish, and place the remaining lemon slices on top. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and parsley over the top. Place the second sheet of parchment paper over the baking tray, and crimp all four edges together with the bottom sheet of parchment paper.

Bake the fish at 390F / 200C for 35 minutes, then remove the top piece of parchment paper and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The fish is done when the flesh from the center flakes easily with a fork.

Serve immediately (warning everyone to watch for bones as they eat!).

Storage tip: Remove any remaining fish from the bones, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days.