This is a healthy recipe using a whole red snapper. Seems imitating? Luckily the fish monger does most of the hard work of gutting and removing the scales of the fish. I love red snapper because of its delicate white meat. But any medium sized white fleshed fish would work just as well.
I’m very particular about getting the freshest fish available. This snapper smelled very oceanic. The eyes were clear and the gills were red. The red snapper was wild caught from South America; I keep a look out on sales to get the best price.
Oven roasting the fish is one of the easiest methods of cooking as it minimizes the times you manhandle the fish, which could lead to uneven cooking and flaking. Oven roasting is also a healthier alternative to pan frying which requires lot more oil.
My favorite method of cleaning the fish is with sea salt or any course texture salt. I dip half a lemon in the sea salt and massage it all over the exterior of the fish, and in the gut. It’s best not to use your hands because the fish might have sharp edges. The lemon and salt aids in removing the smell. Once the entire fish is covered with salt, rinse it with cold water to remove the excess salt. Repeat once more if necessary, but not too excessively because the acid in the lemon might start cooking the flesh.
I dry roast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and bay leaves in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Dry roasting the spices releases the oils which make the spices more fragrant and give it a slight toasted flavor. Allow the whole spices to cool before grinding it to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. The marinade is a paste made of a few spices which are mellow and not overpowering, but still pack a punch of flavor. The coriander gives a nutty flavor along with the sweet licorice flavor of the fennel. Cardamom pods lend a floral sweet flavor and the bay leaves gives earthy depth.
Along with the dry roasted spices, I add turmeric powder and chili powder. The turmeric gives depth of flavor, and has antifungal properties with will get rid of any fishy smell also. Chili powder gives a vibrant color and spiciness to the fish. (Adjust to your tolerance.)
Once the fish is clean and ready, I make a few slits along the belly to allow the marinade to seep in the flesh. I mix all the spices with water to make a paste which I massage all over the fish. Massage the fish carefully with your hands to avoid the sharp edges, or use a silicone brush. Let the fish sit in the marinade for least 10 minutes. For maximum flavor you can do this step ahead and let the fish sit overnight in the refrigerator.
The stuffing for the fish is made of garlic, ginger, chilies, curry leaves, and onion. I add two types of chilies to give the sufficient heat I desired, if you have a low heat tolerance you can have one chili or skip it out completely. I mash the ingredients in a motor pestle to release the oils and get an even consistency. I chop the ingredients roughly so I don’t have to pound them too long, but still achieve the flavor I desire. If you don’t have a motor and pestle you can use a food processor.
After it’s mashed up, add butter and olive oil to give a rich taste and ensure the stuffing doesn’t burn in the oven. The stuffing flavors the fish inside out, perfuming the red snapper with ginger, garlic and red onions. The stuffing also keeps the fish moist and succulent. Once cooked it’s a perfect complement to the light flaky fish.
Whenever I roast I line my cookie sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. I elevate the fish for even cooking with thick slices of onions and lemon. It adds an additional layer of flavor. I would recommend using organic lemons because it contains no wax, and goes well with the fish. The onions are pickled by the lemons on top, and the lemon slices are soft, sweet and briny from the juices of the fish. Both are a perfect accompaniment for the roasted red snapper. I added sweet mini peppers with the fish for sweetness.
Cooking the fish at a high temperature makes the skin crispy; some parts may be more roasted than others from the oven. To ensure no burned parts, I recommend covering the cooking sheet with the fish for the first 15 minutes and then removing for the remaining 15 minutes. When serving the fish, add a portion of the fish with the pan juices, the lemon slices and onion slices from underneath the fish. All these components work to give a savory, sweet, and acidic bite.
- 1 whole red snapper gutted and scaled (2lbs)
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
- ½ tbsp. cardamom pods
- 4 dried bay leaves
- ½ tsp. fennel seeds
- 2 tbsp. chopped garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp. roughly chopped ginger
- 1 chopped green chili
- 2 chopped thai chili (optional)
- 2 tbsp. chopped red onion
- 1 tbsp. chopped curry leaves
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lemon sliced thick
- 1 medium red onion sliced thick
- Roast the dry spices (coriander seeds, cardamom pods, fennel seeds and bay leaves) on a dry skillet for 3-4 minutes till fragrant, then allow it to cool for a few minutes. Then grind the seeds to a fine powder in a coffee grinder.
- In a clean bowl, add the ground spices along with the turmeric and chili powder. Add a splash of water to make a thick paste.
- To the clean fish, make three diagonal slashes along the belly of the fish. This allows the marinade to seep in the flesh.
- Apply the paste liberally all over the red snapper and season with salt and black pepper. Allow the fish to sit in the marinade for at least 10 minutes.
- For the stuffing, mash the chopped garlic, ginger, red onion, green chili, thai chilies, and curry leaves to a chunky paste with a motor and pestle.
- To the stuffing mix in 1 tablespoon of soft butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the stuffing with salt and black pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- On a cookie sheet, drizzle olive oil on the pan, line with thickly sliced red onion and sliced lemons on top. Season the onion and lemons with olive oil to prevent burning, along with salt and black pepper.
- Place the fish on top of the stack of thickly sliced red onions and lemon.
- Stuff the cavity of the fish with fresh paste made in the motor and pestle. Add remaining stuffing to the gashes on the belly of the fish as well.
- Place additional sliced red onion and lemon on top of the fish and drizzle with 1 tbsp. of olive oil.
- Optional you can roast some sweet peppers and potatoes alongside of the red snapper.
- Once the oven is preheated to 450, place the fish in the oven for 30 minutes in the middle rack. Cover the fish with aluminum foil for the initial 15 minutes of cooking and carefully remove for the last 15 minutes.
- Serve warm with the onions and lemons from the bottom of the fish. Enjoy!