Whole Roasted Sea Bass
For those of us who grew up eating Rhodes style cooking, it’s nearly impossible to think of cooking tomatoes without lemon, but in this recipe I’ve used wine instead. Use one or the other, but not both. I’ve given instructions for either.
Fish tastes best when it is tender and moist. Salting it before cooking firms the flesh, which isn’t always desirable and isn’t necessary with a very flavorful sauce. Instead, season the sauce well. The fish will absorb that flavor but retain its own, too, and stay moist and tender. Use very fresh fish, of course.
One whole fish per person – Mediterranean sea bass, red snapper, or bream
For two fish:
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, julienned (cut lengthwise in thin strips)
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1/4″ thick rounds
2 small tomatoes, cut in quarters
salt & black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
fish stock or water
a splash of white wine or juice of half a small lemon
Have the fishmonger scale and gut the fish and remove the fins. Leave the head and tail on. If the fish is very thick, just before cooking it score the skin on the diagonal at the thickest part to ensure its cooking through evenly – up to three cuts, and only skin deep, not into the flesh.
Rinse the potatoes under cold running water until it runs clear. Pat dry.
Preheat the oven to 360ºF or 450ºF if you’re cooking several fish at once.
Pour a light coating of oil in an ovenproof sauté pan or paella. Heat the oil, add the onions and cook over medium heat. When they begin to turn translucent, add the potato slices in a single layer, then the tomato, bay leaf, whole garlic clove, salt and pepper. Shake the pan occasionally to keep the potatoes from sticking. When they begin to soften, turn them with a spatula and cook briefly on the other side. (They’ll finish cooking and brown in the oven.) If using lemon, add it to the almost-cooked vegetables. Once the onions are golden and the tomatoes are softened and glistening, place the fish in the pan. (If you haven’t got an ovenproof sauté pan, transfer the vegetables to a shallow roasting pan and lay the fish on top.) Add fish stock or water – enough to cover the fish only halfway – plus a splash of white wine, if you’re using that. Spoon a little of the sauce over the fish and put the pan in the hot oven. If you’re making several fish, do not crowd them in the pan or they won’t cook properly. Use more than one pan.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 360ºF. If cooking several fish at once, raise the heat to 450ºF and reduce the roasting time to 15 minutes. Don’t overcook! The fish is done when the flesh is lightly opaque, flakes apart easily, but still looks moist. If it’s solid white and dry-looking, you’ve overcooked it.
Using a spatula, transfer the fish to individual plates, surround each with some sauce & vegetables, and serve immediately.