About this recipe
This recipe uses red snapper because it is native to the waters around Florida where I live. Other fish in the 1-3 pound range can be substituted if they are easier to get in your area. I like to eat as much local food* as possible, whether at home or when traveling. Larger fish and/or fewer people means a second meal of fish cakes or croquettes or fish stew.
Baking whole fish this way is fast, easy and flavorful. The flavors of the stuffing combine and infuse the flesh during cooking and the bones are usually very easy to remove. It also makes a nice presentation and fits into healthy whole food diets. Be sure to scale the fish before stuffing and cooking if necessary.
*To read why eating local food is so important, click here.
Choosing whole fish
Whole fish are easier to judge for freshness than filets or steaks. The best signs are the eyes and gills(if present). Eyes should be full and clear. Sunken or cloudy eyes indicate an older fish or fish that was not stored properly. If the gills are present, they should be red, not grey. Fresh fish like this snapper should have little or no odor. A strong “fishy” smell is a sign to avoid that fish. The flesh should be firm and rebound when given a light poke, never feeling soft or mushy.
Please vary the amounts of the stuffing ingredients to suit the size of the fish. I like to cut the stuffing ingredients on the large side and have enough to really pack the body cavity. This gives more opportunity for heat to enter the body cavity during the early part of cooking and the stuffing will soften and compact as it cooks.
1 Whole red snapper(or other similar local fish), 1-3 pounds, scaled if necessary
Stuffing: fresh ginger, 1/4-inch diced celery stalk, 1/4-inch sliced
red onion, 1/2-inch diced fresh mint sprigs and/or leaves
lemon, small wedges sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Very lightly coat or spray both sides of the fish with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
2. Toss all stuffing ingredients together with a little salt and pepper and stuff tightly into the body cavity of the fish. I like to use whole sprigs of mint and really pack the stuffing. This ensures lots of contact and flavor transfer from the stuffing to the fish during cooking.
3. Place the stuffed fish on a baking sheet and put in a preheated 375-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. The flesh between the ribs and dorsal fin behind the gills should flake easily. Exact timing will vary according to the size, thickness and type of fish.
4. Remove fish from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
5. Using a metal spatula and starting at the dorsal fin, try to break the flesh free of the bones by lifting slightly and sliding towards the ribs/stomach at the same time. With smaller fish the entire filet can often be removed in one piece for serving. Pull the spine and other bones off the lower filet on the pan and use the spatula to free it from the pan, turning it skin side up when serving.
Baking whole fish has many advantages over filets or other portions. The bones on the inside and skin on the outside tend to keep the flesh moister and impart a lot of flavor(similar to bone-in chuck or ribeye compared to boneless). The longer cooking time required to get the flesh done at the spine lets any stuffing or seasoning rub in the body cavity really penetrate deeply. Also, the bones, head, fins and other scraps that are left are great for making a small batch of fish stock to freeze for the next time you want to make chowder or fish stew.
Click here to see another roasted whole fish recipe.