As a rule, the only fish I refer to as beautiful are those brilliant, jewel-toned creatures in high-maintenance salt-water tanks. Then I came across this red snapper. That plump, fresh-caught fish caught my eye, changing this week’s recipe from a vegan side dish to please all palates, to this delicious baked whole snapper, infused with fresh herbs and surrounded by a sauce/compote bursting with flavors.
While my initial thought was to highlight the fresh flavor of this whole fish, I discovered that snapper is actually magnificent prepared with a rich, savory dressing. The first version, baked with sautéed onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon was disappointingly lackluster. Moreover, the yield of natural, collagen-rich stock went unutilized. When I deboned the fish to set aside the flesh for another meal, I found that the firm, meaty texture and mild taste of the red snapper would be ideally suited for a richer, more piquant, savory dressing.
I went out to buy another equally attractive fish.
Version two was the hit I had envisioned. In addition to additional garlic and aromatics, I added grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts and cured, pitted Moroccan olives. The result was luscious and fragrant: firm white snapper in a sauce that brimmed with delectable richness. Served with fluffy, lightly salted and buttered white or brown rice and a crisp salad, a large prepared fish will serve four.
What You Need:
Extra large/long baking dish with sides at least 2½ to 3 inches high
Large sauté pan with lid
3½ -4½ lb. whole red snapper
4 large onions sliced into thin rings
5 medium-large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup packed, plumped sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 sprigs fresh marjoram
8 sprigs fresh thyme
3 stems fresh rosemary, stripping needles from the woody end parts
3 cups artichoke hearts rinsed and seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, cut into 1/8ths
2 C. sliced baby bella mushrooms
1½ – 2 cups dry white wine or white cooking wine
2 T. butter
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
Four stems saffron, crushed in 2 T. hot water
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp. for those who like it hot)
2/3 C. pitted, cured Moroccan olives
1 lemon for preparation
2-3 lemons for serving
Chopped parsley to garnish
Preheat oven to 350°.
Sauté the mushrooms until the liquid has evaporated. Add 2 T. butter and the onions and sauté until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or so, until the garlic is soft but not brown. Add the halved grape tomatoes and saffron and sauté until the liquid from the tomatoes begins to exude. Add the hot pepper flakes. Add the artichoke hearts and the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Sauté until excess moisture evaporates. Add the olives. Deglaze the pan with ½ C. – 2/3 C. white wine. Adjust seasoning, adding additional salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as desired. Set aside to cool.
Rinse the fish in cold water, using a table knife to remove overlooked scales. Check the inside of the fish to make sure it has been thoroughly cleaned. I found that I had to remove additional interior matter. Pat dry. Place in baking dish. Sprinkle the fish inside and outside with kosher salt. Stuff half the fresh herbs and two lemon slices inside the fish. Lay three to four lemon slices on top, along with the rest of the herbs. Drizzle with olive oil.
Pour the tomato and artichoke compote around and on top of the fish. Pour over the remaining white wine. Cover the dish with heavy-duty foil. Bake approximately one hour. Check for doneness after 45 minutes.
When fish is cooked, remove the stems and sprigs of herbs and the lemons slices. There will be a lovely sauce surrounding the fish. Taste it and adjust the seasoning, adding red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste.
Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the fish. Garnish with several lemon slices and chopped parsley. Serve in the baking dish.
By Lisa Reitman Dobi