A lot of people feel a bit intimidated about cooking - and eating - a whole fish. The first might be because it's harder to tell when a fish on the bone is cooked whilst a fillet cooks faster and evenly making it easier and less daunting. The latter because of the bones and the messy task of serving it.
I personally love it not only because it looks beautiful and gives that WOW effect when you bring it to the table in a nice big platter but it's also easy to prepare and you can do most of the prep in advance, lastly, there's way more flavor and less chances to overcook it as the bones and the skin help keeping it juicy.
There are different ways and recipes for it as there are cooks but the one I'm going to talk about its a simple formula that works with any fish and one you can adjust and change according to your cravings.
For this recipe I used snapper, a common white flesh fish here in New Zealand, flaky and with a mild flavour. Done correctly its juicy and tender but a bit overcooked and will be dry and uninteresting as there is not much fat in it.
As a side note, I caught the baby you see pictured above. Yes... I actually hunted my own food! and let me tell you it is an indescribable feeling when you first hook it, then when you land it and really even better when you are eating it knowing you provided the food, Ahmmm... still this is not going to convert me on a keen fisherwoman (to my boyfriend's regret) but the fact that you can eat your prize at the end of the day makes me like this sport a little more.
Back to the food, I used a Chinese recipe as a guideline here, where the fish is steamed rather than baked but as I don't have a steamer big enough to fit my catch and my oven doesn't have that function either I opted for baking it wrapped in baking paper and tin foil to create the steamed effect. At the end I seared the top of the fish pouring hot oil over it as they traditionally do in this Asian recipe.
I want to go through a couple of points to make it easier and more clear before you start with the recipe:
Pick the freshest fish available, the eyes should be bright, not cloudy as well as the gills which look bright red when fresh. You need a whole fish for this recipe, gutted and scaled.
I used a 2 kg fish (4 lb approximately) enough for 4 people as a main course with some side dishes.
Make sure to clean and dry the belly cavity and dry the whole fish with kitchen towel.
The oven temperature I find the best for this dish is 220C in a fan oven.
You're going to need a tray big enough to fit your fish and enough tin foil and baking paper to wrap it.
Serves 4 people
Oven temperature: 225 C Fan
For the fish:
1 x 2 kg whole snapper (or any other white flesh fish), scaled and gutted
3 x spring onions, cut in 5 cm julienne, white and green parts
1 x 5 cm knob ginger, peeled, thinly sliced and in julienne
3 x garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 x red chillies, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1 x coriander bunch, picked leaves and chopped stalks
For the sauce:
4 tbsp light soya sauce
4 tbsp sugar
8 tbsp water
4 tsp chinese dry wine
2 tsp dark sesame oil
pinch of white pepper
For the fish:
Dry fish thoroughly, season with salt and pepper inside the cavity and fill with a few ginger batons and some spring onion.
Slash the fish belly in a diamond shape with the help of a knife (three angled slashes towards your left and three angled slashes with the knife towards your right hand to create the diamonds).
Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper and sprinkle some of the spring onion, ginger, chili and coriander stalks.
Wrap the fish in a big sheet of both baking paper and tin foil ( baking paper touching the fish and tin foil at the bottom), leaving the fish tail out.
Arrange fish over a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes per inch of thickness (measuring on the thickest part of the fish). In this case for my 2 kg fish will take approximately 40 minutes in a 225 C fan oven.
While the fish is cooking heat the oil and sliced garlic from cold (this will prevent the garlic from burning) till the garlic take a golden shade and crisp up a little.
Take garlic out of the pan to a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Once your fish is ready, discard herbs (they have lend their flavour already) and replace with fresh ones.
Heat your oil again just beyond smoking point, you want it super hot so it sears the flesh and herbs.
Pour oil slowly and carefully with a spoon all over the fish to "cook" the herbs.
Serve immediately with some of the sauce over and the rest on the side.
with steamed rice, I love brown or jasmine with this and pan seared bok choy in a bit of sesame oil.
For the sauce:
Put all the ingredients, except sesame oil and pepper, in a pan on medium heat till the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients. Serve warm.