I was very excited this past week when I found myself with the luxury of an hour at the Chinese market. It is one of those places that always has everything I could possibly want: a sea of manila mangos for thirty cents a piece; long, freshly dug burdock root to shred, dry and make tea out of for under a dollar; huge bags of unique, greens; small mung bean moon cakes and miles of bags of cheap aduki and black beans. Not to mention the pharmacy with the wooden cabinets stuffed with herbs including my favorite weekly brew addition—astragalus root.
But this time I was also on an important mission. I had taken on the daunting task of making a whole roasted fish for dinner for the Cute Gardener. I have cooked a lot of things but whole fish are note in my repertoire so I was intimidated. I knew that red snapper would be available at this particular store because it was a fish we’d eaten plenty of times out amongst the Asian culinary scene. But I still felt a little shy when stepping up to the fishmonger to choose from a long vat of iced creatures, as I truly knew not what I was doing.
I was lucky to get a nice guy because in the past at this store while buying other meats, the butchers had been less than patient with my white girl inability to understand certain standards of butchery. I’ve been sighed at when asking if the skin could be removed from a pork shoulder and hand waved with frenzy to signify a need to hurry while trying to buy a lesser portion of a pork loin to have ground. I guess that’s why I forgot to ask for the fish scales to be removed but I did manage to go home with the guts retrieved and the flesh cleaned.
I found one of Grace Parisi’s recipes from Food and Wine and was surprised at how easy it was to make. I served it with a cold soba noodle salad dressed simply with ginger and oil and tossed with blanched green beans, shredded carrots, and sesame seeds. It turned out so well that it passed the CG’s carcass test, in which by the time he’s finished with it, there is literally nothing left but a bare skeleton on the plate. I am now inspired to return to the Chinese store to walk down the ice vat counter and choose a different fish to roast once per month until I have tried them all.
Whole Asian-Style Roasted Red Snapper
One whole 3-pound red snapper, cleaned and scaled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for rubbing
1. Chop the cilantro, ginger, scallions, and garlic clove together with a large pinch of salt.
2. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and stir in the oil.
3. Make 5 parallel 3-inch-long slashes on each side of the snapper, slicing almost through to the bone.
4. Lightly season the fish with salt and fill the slashes with the paste.
5. Rub the fish all over with canola oil.
6. Preheat the oven to 425°.
7. Transfer the fish to a heavy rimmed baking sheet so it stands upright. To keep the fish stable, splay the belly flaps and set a crumpled foil ball under the tail.
8. Roast the fish for 30 minutes, until the flesh just flakes.
9. Transfer the fish to a platter. Using 2 forks, lift the fillets off the bones and serve.