Seared Thai Snapper with Blood Orange Sauce

There are many versions of this dish, but all involve an entire fish, boned and flattened out (butterflied), head on with tails trimmed, then cooked and served whole to enjoy the beauty of the fish. It is also easy to eat because there are no bones left between the head and tail.

Whether you use a Thai snapper, red Gulf snapper, golden trout, small Arctic char, or even rock cod (or the fabulous South China Sea’s So Mei), the dish is very easy to cook once the boning is done. The garnish can be elaborate (fried spring rolls made out of the fish skin stuffed with ancho chilies and cooked black beans) or simple like one of the compound butters.

Ingredients

The Fish

  • 4 1-pound fresh whole Thai snapper, scaled, cleaned, gills removed
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil

The Sauce

  • 1 blood orange (or half ripe pink grapefruit), juiced,zested Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

The Garnish

  • ½ cup Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chervil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Get your fish seller to do this preparation of the snapper, or put the fish on a cutting board that does not slide around on the table (put a damp cloth under it). Using a medium-sized sharp boning knife, insert the knife into the belly cavity, and cut along one side of the spinal cord along the flat backbones ½ inch from the edge that is the “top” of the fish on the outside. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side of the flat backbones. Turn the fish on its back and gently flatten it out with your hand. With scissors cut the backbone, which is now free of the flesh, at the head and tail ends, and pull the bone out away from the fish. Remove any bones that are left in the sides of the fish.

Mix the fresh thyme and olive oil together and rub over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

To make the sauce, put the orange juice in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to dissolve the salt, and then add the olive oil. Do not mix.

Heat a large nonstick frying pan and cook one or two of the fish, skin side down, for 3 minutes. Flip over and cook another 3 minutes on the flesh side. Drain the fish on paper towels and keep warm while you cook the other fish. Put each fish on a hot oval plate, skin side up.

Pour the orange-olive oil sauce over the fish.

Put the herb leaves in a little bowl, add the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and toss together. Place the salad on top of the fish.

Variations

I have served this dish with a sea urchin-mussel soufflé presented in a cleaned-out sea urchin shell, and the fish sauced with a simple chopped garlic-chopped tomato or blood orange sauce with a warm mixed vegetable-white bean salad; or just chopped citrus and extra virgin olive oil mixed together with a simple chopped capellini and warm white truffle salad.

Try mixing blanched pea tendrils, white beans, and thinly sliced cooked asparagus in with the herb salad as a garnish for the fish. If that is too much work, just take leftover cooked vegetables out of the refrigerator, chop them, warm them in a double boiler with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and mix them into the herb salad. Or add chopped Chinese roast pork from Chinatown and Key or Rangpur lime sections to the herb salad.

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