i refer to my trip to southeast asia often (a la the tom yum post) but it was a trip that truly spawned my culinary senses. since then i haven’t been able to quench my hunger for asian goodness. things like pho, tom yum, curry, fish, tamarind, fried morning glory – and if i’m not out hunting for the best spot in town, i am constantly on the quest to perfect the flavor of my homemade dishes.
this asian food obsession, paired with last weekend’s trip to the fresh seafood market set the perfect stage for whole cooked snapper – with an asian influence of course. baked/fried/grilled whole fish is very popular in southeast asia, and in many other parts of the world too. the fish skin provides a great case for cooking the fish and keeping the meat moist, but the main benefit is the economical payoff. it’s much cheaper to purchase and you don’t waste what would be thrown away after cutting filets. also, you can’t beat the simplicity of slopping on some sauce and throwing it on the grill or in the oven.
the first time i ever had a whole fish, was actually right here in houston at reef, an amazing seafood restaurant downtown. chef bryan caswell (who was dubbed best new chef 2009 by food & wine magazine) works absolute wonders with food. i was eating dinner with my dear friend sylvia and she suggested the thai style whole fish. i remember to this day the way the fish tasted and how much fun i had eating it. it was so tangy and spicy, the taste was just perfect!
for this dish, i grabbed some spices and sauces from the pantry, plus some garlic and lime. i combined them and zapped them in the food processor. the flavor was wonderful: citrus, spice, salt and nice dark undertones from the fish and oyster sauce. it turned out great and was really flavorful with the snapper. if i did this again though, i would cut the oyster sauce and use tamarind instead. also, i would replace chili sauce with fresh chopped chilies.
the fish was already cleaned, so all i had to do to prep was rinse and score. you score both sides about an inch apart, from head to tail. then, you spread the sauce over both sides of the fish, reserving just a bit of the sauce for the end. place it in a 375 degree oven and cook for about 20 minutes. this will depend on the thickness of the fish. once the fish is cooked through, top with the remaining sauce and broil on high for 5 minutes. this will really infuse the flavor and give a nice crisp coat to the fish.
once baked and broiled, i threw some coriander (cilantro) and lemon wedges on the dish and we were ready to eat! just simply peel back the skin and dig in to the fresh, flavorful, flaky meat. once you finish one side, you pick it up, flip it over and do it all over again.
i know a whole fish may seem squeamish to some of you, but i promise, it is a great way to get the most out of a beautiful whole fresh fish, also, presentation of a whole fish is exciting and dramatic. this natural form of eating is so pure, a true back-to-basics experience everyone must try. at the same time, its less wasteful, making it sustainable. what do you have to lose?
stay hungry houston!!!