Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Whole Red Snapper Baked With Potatoes, Garden Herbs And Vermouth

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When my daughter showed up this weekend after her trip to Costco with a whole snapper my face dropped.  We had decided I was not to come so we could keep the bill low.  Famous last words.  All I can say is she really went to town.

I had seen these small snappers the previous week when I went to buy a few staples and I have to admit they looked beautiful.  The other added attraction was their size.  2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds.  Now, that can be a plus or a negative.  When I buy whole fish I try to avoid smaller ones as I know I will be paying about a third of the price for the head and the tail.  Unless you are going to make broth for a future bouillabaisse or paella,  that is not economical.  On the plus side, with a fish this size, you will have enough for four people or, if there is only two of you, cold leftovers with an interesting mayonnaise on top of field greens.

Skip to the fish.  I have one rule of thumb when it comes to buying fish.  If I can smell it,  it's a no go.  This time, I'm happy to say, the fish did not smell.  Nowadays fish such as these are immediately frozen after they are caught so plan to cook when you buy it and whatever you do, do not refreeze.

So, I decided to make it whole, just like my grandmother used to make it, with a few twists here and there.  Now I am not going to give you exact measurements for everything.  This way, you can apply the recipe to any size snapper you buy.

The potatoes that accompany the snapper are probably the best you will ever have.  Here their purpose is twofold.  One keeping the fish from sticking to the bottom.  Two, send you into ecstatic convulsions!  They roast under the fish and get all the flavors from it.

By the way, if you are planting an herb garden, do get some lemon balm.  You will be using it all summer.  If you don't have some on hand, just add extra lemon or peel.

Fishing for snapper in Cuba today

June and July  is the time for snappers, at least in the Caribbean.  I know, I used to fish for them off my father's boat in Cuba as a young girl.    Mother and I were quite the fishermen while my father socialized with his friends on the radio.  We would come home with 40 or 50 snappers a night during the time they came to spawn off the coast of Varadero where we had a summer house.  It was like a city both above the water and below. 

We tried to get to the site by dusk so we could pick out a good spot, our "secret" spot.  Then drinks and sandwiches and the waiting began.  Sometimes the madness would not start until one or two o clock in the morning.  But once the full moon came out, watch out...you couldn't bring them in fast enough.  Big ones too, 20 to 30 lbs.   And do you know what we used for bait?? Squid and lobster! Goes to show you where the priorities were in those days.

There is nothing in the world like eating a freshly caught snapper.  I can still close my eyes and remember the times.  But if you can't, and I can't anymore, this is not a bad way to go.

Serves 4


1 2 1/2 pound whole snapper, cleaned , scales removed, head and tail on
1 large baking potato
1/2 onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic mashed
olive oil
1 lemon, halved
fresh parsley
fresh lemon balm
fresh basil
1/4 tsp. Pimenton (Spanish paprika)
Sea Salt
Fresh Pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 lemon cut in wedges to accompany

You will need a roasting pan


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Take a meat cleaver and remove the head and tail.  Save to make broth.

Make a cut around the belly and open up.  My daughter misunderstood and cut the whole top off! It was even better.

Squeeze 1/2 of the lemon and sprinkle some pimenton in the inside of the fish.  Also add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Add the sliced onion, and crushed garlic.

Take the herbs and roll them all together in the shape of a cigar.  Chop and add to the inside of the fish. 

Slice the other half of the lemon and add slices to the inside of the fish.

Drizzle some olive oil, about 1 TBS, and cover the fish with the top half.

Peel the potato, cut in 1/4 inch slices and place them close together in the bottom of a roasting pan.

Drizzle a little olive oil and add some salt and pepper.

Place the fish on top of the sliced potatoes.  Drizzle some olive oil and add salt and pepper. If you have any leftover herbs spread on top.

Place the roasting pan in the preheated 450 degree oven and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes.  It all depends on your oven. Add the vermouth in the last 10 minutes and continue cooking until done.  Let rest another 10 minutes.

When done, lift the fish taking care not to upset those beautiful potatoes! Remove the top half and set in a clean plate.  Gently remove the bones.  They should come out in one piece. Cut each half in two.  I leave the skin on and let everyone decide whether they want to eat or remove.  It makes for a nicer presentation and keeps the fish moist inside.
Carefully remove the potatoes from the pan and serve them next to the fish.  If you have drippings,  drizzle them over the fish.  Serve with lemon wedges and yellow rice. A cherry tomato salad with basil, olive oil and balsamic is the crowning glory!

All photos Lindaraxa


  1. Oh my!!! This looks and sounds fantastic. I wish I could get my husband to enjoy seafood...

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