Are you intimidated by fish? I have some deep-seated shark issues (thanks for taking me to see Jaws when I was 9, Dad!) but cooking fish is not as scary as it seems. For the following recipe, I used a whole Branzino which is a mild, white fish that was ON SALE!!! This recipe is simple, delicious and could be done on a grill too (just put the fish on a piece of heavy duty foil first). It's impressive for a dinner party because it looks beautiful but takes you no time to cook. Make sure everyone gets a piece of the crispy top fillet and the flavorful bottom fillet.
When you are purchasing a whole fish look for 3 things:
1. Does it smell fishy? It shouldn't if it's fresh. Ask when the fish came in.
2. The eyes should not be sunken or cloudy.
3. Most importantly, the gills of the fish should still be a healthy red color.
Ask the fishmonger to clean the fish for you (lest you want fish scales all over your hair, clothes and kitchen.) Ask them to butterfly and bone it for you. Head and tail on or off is your choice. I leave them on until after cooking.
This is what it will look like after being cleaned, butterflied and deboned. Run your finger over the flesh and pull out any little bones they may have missed.
Whole Roasted Fish
1 Whole Branzino (or other fish)
1 t crushed fresh garlic (use a garlic press, not that nasty store bought kind)
1 lemon, sliced in rounds as thin as you can make them
3-4 fresh basil leaves
a pinch of crushed red pepper
2t olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Place the fish on a sheet pan. Open up the fish. Coat the flesh with 1 t of olive oil and salt and pepper.
3. On the bottom half of the fish spread the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Layer the basil on next, followed by 3 lemon slices.
4. Close the fish back up and with a knife score the skin of the top of the fish 3 times with a sharp knife. (This will prevent the fish from curling up.)
5. Coat the outer skin with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Lightly salt and pepper skin.
6. Roast the fish for about 10 minutes. The flesh should flake but still be moist and the skin should be crisp.
7. If you like, drizzle a tiny bit more olive oil over the finished fish and serve.
*Note: You could use any herbs or flavors for this recipe. Substitute sesame oil for olive oil, lemongrass and ginger and use soy sauce instead of salt for an Asian flavor.
Layering on the flava!
Scored and ready to roast