This fish dish--quick, delicious, and presented whole--makes an impact. It requires just 15 minutes of preparation and 30 minutes of cooking time. The ingredients are simple. Just prep the fish, place it in the oven, and--presto!--it actually makes its own colorful sauce, replete with Provençal flavors.
1 (6-pound) whole red snapper, cleaned and scaled
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped ripe tomatoes (or use canned tomatoes if ripe are not available)
1 small lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked coriander seeds
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley; plus 2 tablespoons chopped, for garnish
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly oil the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the whole fish. (If necessary, trim the fins with scissors to get a better fit.) Rinse the red snapper inside and out with cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels. Slash 4 X's about 1/4 inch deep into the thickest parts on both sides of the fish to ensure even cooking. Season well with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the roasting pan, and scatter a few of the shallots and garlic in the cavity.
Strew the tomatoes, lemon, the remaining shallots and garlic, the coriander seeds, thyme and parsley sprigs over the fish, and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil.
Roast until the fish is cooked, 35 to 40 minutes. To test the fish for doneness, make a small incision near the head. It should be just opaque near the bone. Using 2 large metal spatulas, transfer the fish to a warmed serving platter. Spoon the vegetable garnish over the fish, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and present the whole fish at the table.
To serve, use a long, thin-bladed knife to cut vertically through the top fillet to the backbone. Make an incision down the backbone, and remove the back and dorsal fins. Use a large fork to lift off the 2 portions of the top fillet and place on warmed dinner plates. Lift off the bone structure and head and discard. Cut the bottom fillet in half horizontally. Transfer to dinner plates. Serve with the vegetables.
Variations: Substitute a whole wild striped bass for the red snapper. Or use smaller, farm-raised striped bass (about 2 pounds each), cooking the smaller fish for 20 to 30 minutes.
Flavor Building: Niçoise or green olives enhance this dish very well; use approximately 1 cup pitted olives. Sage, rosemary, and/or thyme may also be added to taste.
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Excerpted from ALFRED PORTALE'S GOTHAM BAR & GRILL by Alfred Portale Copyright© 1997 by Alfred Portale. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher