Whole Roast Fish with Asian Spices
A whole roast fish is an impressive way to show off at an intimate dinner party. Whole fish, also known as “in the round”, is when the fish is served with the head on, just as the fish was caught. While it’s aesthetically pleasing it is also a great way to cook fish because it seals in the flavor and moisture. With it’s beautiful red and pink color, New Zealand Seabream is a firm, meaty round fish with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor found in the Gulf of Mexico as well as adjacent Atlantic waters. In this recipe I stuff it with a combination of cilantro, garlic, ginger with some sesame oil and fish sauce for a baked fish with Asian flavors. I like to serve this rustic seasoned fish with rice and vegetables like bok choy or seared shishito peppers.
It can be difficult to find whole fish if you don’t know where to look – I get mine from a local seafood store, Santa Monica Seafood. Many grocery stores only sell filets so you may have to either go straight to the source (a fisherman), special order the whole fish or go to a specialty seafood store. Rather than doing it myself I prefer to have one of the fishmongers gut the fish and remove the scales and gills for me so that they can just be filled and popped right in the oven.
While serving the fish whole is visually appealing – it can also be intimidating to have a whole fish sitting in front of you. A fish staring you in the eyes can make some squeamish but for me it gives an appreciation of where my food comes from. With these tips you will look like an old pro and will be making whole fish for every dinner party.
In preparing the fish for cooking, the goal is to remove the fillets from the top portion of the fish as well as the underside. With the fish on a platter or plate, use a sharp knife or fish knife and cut between the head and body and repeat on the tail end. Then insert the knife at the tail end and cut from the backbone to the cavity. With the knife resting against the backbone, cut up to the head. Use a spatula and starting at the tail end, lift the filet off the backbone and move to a separate plate. Lift the tail of the fish and remove the backbone (or flip the fish over and lift the other filet off the bone). Divide the filets into 4 portions.
For the fish:
1 (1½-pound) whole New Zealand Seabream, cleaned, scaled and gutted
2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 lime, thinly sliced
¼ (packed) cup cilantro
Green onions, julienned
1 medium Fresno chilies, seeded and thinly sliced
For the fish:
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Make 3 parallel 2-inch-long slashes on each side of the Seabream. Rub the fish all over with the canola oil.
Chop ¼ cup of the cilantro. In a small bowl stir together the cilantro, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and fish sauce. Season with kosher salt and white pepper.
Rub the paste all over the fish including the inside. Season all over with kosher salt and pepper. Add the lime slices into the inside of the fish cavity. Bake until the fish is flakey and cooked through, about 28 to 30 minutes.
Serve on a platter with the roasting juices and garnish with cilantro, green onions and chilies.
I get my fresh seafood from a local store, Santa Monica Seafood, as it has a great selection of fish with plenty of sustainable options. Click the link here for an exclusive coupon for your next order from Santa Monica Seafood!