I love Sunday — a day to do whatever you like, no meetings, no conference calls, nothing scheduled, but a nice, long leisurely lunch for two. I got up, went for a run, walked to the farmers’ market, restocked on vegetables for the week, and picked up a yellowtail snapper on my way home. Am now ready for a glass of wine and a relaxing lunch.
After several trips to Greece, where they are most adept at grilling whole fish, I have fallen in love with this preparation. Given my fondness for whole fish, I’ve tried to persuade family and friends to come on board. But, time after time, they comment regarding how they cannot get past the head and eyes staring back at them. If you can overlook, or even better still, embrace, the fact that this fish (like all fish) once possessed a head and two eyeballs, just like a fillet of the same, you will not be disappointed.
In my opinion, whole fish tastes infinitely better than a fish that has been filleted (just like roasting a whole chicken tastes decidedly better than a boneless, skinless chicken breast). Cooking the fish whole keeps the meat moist, in addition to allowing the skin to get nice and crispy (yum).While my favorite way to prepare whole fish is on a charcoal grill, unfortunately, this city dweller does not have ready access to one. Next best option is to pan fry. Both methods are similar and rather easy to execute. Season the fish, stuff with fresh herbs, then grill or pan fry. The key, allow the grill or pan to get hot before you add the fish, and then leave the fish alone (while keeping a close eye) until it’s ready to be flipped. The fish is ready to be flipped when the skin releases easily from the grill or pan. You can see below that the skin is a nice golden-brown color.
I like a simple sauce to accompany my fish. This time around, I prepared chermoula (or charmoula), a sauce of Moroccan origin. There are many iterations of chermoula, but the foundation is typically a mixture of fresh herbs, oil, lemon juice, preserved lemons, garlic, cumin, and salt; some recipes call for onion or shallot, coriander, chili peppers, and/or saffron. I like mine with a healthy pinch of smoked hot paprika, but then again I think paprika goes with just about everything. In Morocco, chermoula is traditionally served with a fish tagine of potatoes, tomatoes, and green peppers, but it’s also great served simply over whole grilled fish, roasted vegetables, seafood, such as scallops or shrimp, grilled meats, poultry…quite versatile to say the least.
Adapted slightly from Saveur
cayenne to taste (optional)
sea salt, to taste
Serve with some sauteed greens or a mixed greens salad, crusty bread (to sop up the delicious sauce), and a glass or two of white wine (such as Albariño, Viognier, or Vermentino). A simply perfect Mediterranean meal in just a matter of minutes!
Pan Fried Whole Fish
1 1/2 to 2-pound fish (such as snapper, branzini, porgie, mackerel, pampano)
Sprigs of fresh herbs (such as cilantro, thyme, rosemary, oregano)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil for pan frying
Season the cavity with salt and pepper, and stuff with a few sprigs of fresh herbs. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper.
With a sharp knife, score the fish by slicing at an angle all the way to the bone (about three slits per side). Scoring the fish helps distribute the heat so the fish cooks evenly.
Heat a wide skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan (just enough to coat the pan). When the pan is nice and hot and the oil starts to smoke, add the fish to the pan. Cook for about 8 to 8 1/2 minutes (depending on the size of the fish). When the fish gives way and the skin is golden brown, flip the fish and cook for an additional 8 to 8 1/2 minutes.
Serve with a side of chermoula.