I finally settled on a very simple recipe from Anne Burrell, Whole Roasted Fish with Herbs. So on Wednesday, I went to the local fish store and purchased a whole red snapper. I drew the line at having to gut the poor thing, so made sure that was already done, along with all the gills being removed. I tried very hard not to give our fish a name, but failed miserably and ended up calling him "Bob”.
Say hi to Bob:
While he hung out on the counter and I got my prep out of the way by picking some herbs from my garden, including bay leaves, slicing a lemon, smashing some garlic cloves and measuring out some white wine.
Then I took a deep breath and started removing Bob’s fins. Any idea how sharp snapper fins are? Razor-sharp! I only realized I knicked myself a couple of times when I started handling the sliced lemon. Ouch! After the de-finning was done, I needed to make a few small slits in his skin on both sides. Never having worked with a whole fish before, and especially a red snapper, I just figured I would make three quick cuts with my chef's knife and move on to the next step. Ummm, not so fast. His skin was really tough! I practically had to make a stabbing motion to pierce his hide [cue theme music from Psycho]. With the slits finally completed, I was feeling a bit braver and thought I would part his fish lips to see inside his mouth. Red Snappers have TEETH! They have a TONGUE!
I started making all kinds of squealing girl noises. David came running into the kitchen to find out what was going on. I was sputtering so bad, it was difficult to share my discovery. When he finally figured out what the hell I was talking about, he too looked in Bob's mouth and was amazed.
Thoughts of abandoning my whole fish cooking challenge flitted through my mind. But I steeled myself to go forward. After stuffing Bob with some herbs and lemon, I gently placed him on a lined baking sheet, covered with more herbs, lemon slices and smashed garlic cloves. I poured some white wine over everything, popped him into the oven and set the timer.
David stepped in again to move Bob from the baking sheet onto a cutting board. However, Bob was stuck because his upper fish lip was fused to the foil! After some tugging, he finally came loose, minus part of his lip.
When Bob's allotted roasting time was done, I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath before opening the oven. I reached in and, sure enough, his eyeballs had popped. I let out little whimpers, but quickly collected myself. David came in at this point to double-check Bob’s doneness. Fortunately for me, David had done some online research to figure this part out. It seems that if you can insert the edge of a spoon or fork along the spine and the bones come clean of the flesh, you’re in good shape. Bob actually needed about 5 more minutes in the oven to get to that stage.
See what I mean about the teeth and tongue?
After all the drama, I had rather mixed feelings about picking up my fork for the first mouthful. But, I took the plunge and...well, Bob tasted pretty good! Actually better than pretty good. Can't say I have any urgent need to do this again, but at least I know what cooking a whole fish is all about and can check it off my list. YEAH!!!!