a whole fish story

Before I get to the fish, let me just get something out in the open. I have not baked in two weeks. Two weeks! I think this might be a record since starting the blog. I have a pound of butter in my fridge, a new sourdough starter on my counter, but alas, I was away last weekend and I am running a corporate retreat through the end of this weekend. Withdraws, people, withdraws. Please tell me you’re missing it too …

Onto the fish. I love fish, but didn’t always. I was a reluctant fish-eater until my sweet love Jordan opened my eyes to the deliciousity of the underwater buffet, and now I am officially a convert. Despite our devotion to pork, most weeks we eat more fish than meat. But, those fishies can get expensive—hence our experiments with cheaper, more plentiful varieties like squid and sardines. Last week we splurged on a branzini, not as cheap as sardines, but not breaking the bank like salmon or halibut. Isn’t he a handsome devil?

Cooking a whole fish is amazingly easy. The most important thing is to not overcook it. Giving it a liberal dose of salt, pepper and lemon juice doesn’t hurt either.

Baked Whole Fish
1 whole fish, like branzi or rockfish (Several sardines per person would also work just as well in this method. Or if you can’t find a whole fish, a fillet can also be cooked this way)
1 lemon, sliced
salt, pepper, fresh herbs
olive oil

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Clean and descale your fish, or have your fishmonger do this for you. Lightly coat an oven-safe saute pan in olive oil. Sprinkle both sides of your fish with salt and pepper. Stuff the belly cavity with herbs and lemon slices. Put your fish in the pan and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until just cooked.

This is a great trick for checking doneness of fish. Jordan taught it to me, but it is originally from Eric Ripert. Insert a very thin knife (or better yet, a needle) into a fleshy part of the fish. Remove the needle and immediately touch it to your finger. If it feels room temperature to warm, the fish is done. If it is hot, you’ve overcooked the fish. If it is cold, give the fish a few more minutes.

We served the fish in the pan with an extra sprinkling of lemon juice and herbs. Whole fish is trickier to eat than fillets because it has a lot of bones, but if you’re careful, you can pretty easily extract the fillets from the skeleton. Whole fish appropriately baked are wonderfully succulent and the cooking method really honors the flavor of the fish. If you’ve never enjoyed a whole fish so simply prepared, dive in!

And don’t forget to eat the skin! It’s the best part!