We’re keep things nautical this week on Giusto with a couple more fish recipes. I’m going to make a bold statement and say that Grilled Whole Fish (of any shape, size, or variety) is my favorite meat dish of all time! Not my favorite dish, that’s pasta, but as far as protein on a plate goes, I’ll take a beautifully charred Snapper (like the one above) over a steak any day. Call me a sissy if you must but I find so much delight in tackling a whole fish, pinching off every morsel of flesh until all that’s left is the bright-white framework. It’s also one of the most revered preparations for fish in all of Italy, a matter of respect and appreciation for the subtle flavors and textures of the ingredient. The key is not to screw it up, that’s Italian cooking.
In short, all you need to know is that throwing a fish on the barbie is about as delicious as it gets, and a few summer veggies wouldn’t hurt either. The following is not necessarily a recipe but rather a series of steps to take when grilling whole fish:
Start with a clear-eyed, sweet smelling fish from your local fish monger or grocer. You may feel odd asking the fish dude to smell his product but a fish’s smell is a sure sign to it’s quality. Fresh fish should smell like the ocean, bright and briny without any of the “stink” so often associated with fish. The eyes should also be clear as glass and the skin should have a slight slime to it, dry skin means it’s been sitting around far too long. For once, slime is good!
Your fish guy should have the whole fish scaled and gutted, but if you must scale and gut it yourself I’d recommend doing so in your backyard, otherwise you’ll find fish scales for years to come scattered around every corner of your kitchen. Before grilling I like to give my fish a thorough rinse under cold water, running water in and out of the body cavity and removing any remaining tid-bits or blood lines inside. Pat the fish dry with paper towel and then season lightly, and I mean lightly. A few lemon or orange slices on the inside, maybe some herbs like oregano or thyme, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and that’s it!
Th most important part for grilling our one fish, two fish is to have the grill screaming hot. Place the fish diagonally across the grates and leave it alone, if you keep messing with it you’ll most likely tear the skin or it will stick. This may sound awful but your fish will be ready to flip when the eye facing you (staring back that is) will be white and popping out. Feeling squimish? Don’t worry, just flip it over and you’ll never have to see that haunting eye again! The fish will be done when you the meat is opaque and flakes away at the touch. I’d tell you a time on each side to grill it but it really depends on the weight and size of the fish.
On this occasion I served ours up with some grilled asparagus, baby Italian eggplants, and local purple sweet potatoes I baked first and then finish on the grill for an extra crunch. The sweet potatoes actually gave out small bubbles of ultraviolet ooze (above) that tasted like pure sugar. All you need is a good drizzle of high quality olive oil, lemons to squeeze over, and a cold bottle of Soave or Vernaccia and you’re made in the shade. To eat it simply cut off the head from behind the gills and the tail, run a knife down the back bone and slip the knife or a spatula underneath the top filet. It should lift away from the ribs easily. From there you can lift the rest of the ribs and spine off of the bottom fillet and you’re left with two whole filets, a tasty bit of meat connected to the tail (I eat the whole thing, fin and all), the crunchy skin (my favorite part) and a lot of killer meat on and in the head. The cheeks of larger fish like this Snapper or Bass are exceptionally tasty, usually the first thing I eat. Gnawing on the head of a sea creature may sound odd to some, but for any fish fan’s it is the ultimate expression of love for all the sea has to offer. You just can’t beat fish head…Oh, Snap!