Sunday, June 6, 2010

Whole Roasted Fish with Herbs

Earlier this year, I started making a list of things I wanted or needed to know how to cook and roasting a whole fish, with its head still attached, was one of the things I jotted down. The reason I never tackled it before was that I just didn't know if I could deal with, literally, looking in the eye of my soon-to-be dinner. The other reason is that I already knew that no matter how I decided to cook the fish, those eyeballs were going to pop.

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:

So there we were, me and Bob, alone in the kitchen -- me eyeing him with trepidation, him giving me a rather glazed look.

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.

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.

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.

See what I mean about the teeth and tongue?

My little whimpers started again. Bless his heart, David offered to fillet the poor thing and remove the bones. I busied myself getting the rest of the meal finished up and on our plates.

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!!!!