Baked Pompano Stuffed with Crabmeat

In my opinion, pompano is the most distinctive and succulent of all Southern fish. While I’ve caught them myself in the surf as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina, by far the finest, fattest specimens are landed off the Florida and Gulf coasts. Perhaps the most famous pompano dish is richly sauced pompano en papillote (baked in parchment), created many decades ago at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans. But since the white, slightly oily fish is so sturdy, it also lends itself perfectly to being stuffed and baked in the manner relished by all Southerners. Since the heads and tails are left on the fish in this recipe, the dish makes a very dramatic presentation worthy of the most stylish dinner party.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 6 scallions (part of green tops included), cut into thin rounds
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¾ pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • Four -pound pompanos, gutted but with heads and tails left on
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a heavy skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat. Add the scallions, cook, stirring, till softened, about 3 minutes, and transfer to a mixing bowl. Melt 2 more tablespoons of the butter in the skillet, add the bread crumbs, stir till golden and crisp, and add to the scallions. Add the crabmeat, parsley, and sherry to the bowl and gently mix till the stuffing is well blended. Remove from the heat.

Season the pompanos inside and out with salt and pepper, spoon equal amounts of stuffing into the cavities, and secure the edges with small skewers or heavy toothpicks. Arrange the pompanos in a large buttered baking pan, dot the tops with the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, and bake till the fish feel firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Arrange on a heated platter, sprinkle parsley over the tops, and serve immediately.