Few things on a plate are more intimate than a whole fish.
This local whole yellowtail snapper is delicious and tastes like pure Florida. Since my dad has been a local professional chef and now works the fish counter at Whole Foods, I have an insider’s advantage on how to cook fish. First, stop whining about bones and eyes that look back—that’s part of the whole fish experience. Cooking fish whole delivers a juicier, tastier dish, and the bones are a reminder to take it slow and savor the gifts of the Gulf. Added bonus: add the leftover head and tail to soup for an added flavor boost.
Here's how I'm cooking fresh fish right now.
Simple Yellowtail Snapper
Serves 4. Total time: 30 minutes
Note: Consider roughly half a pound per person when placing your order. The person behind the counter will scale the fish and gut it for you; they can remove the heads and tails if you request it, but c’mon—we just went over why you should keep them.
Extra-virgin olive oil
One white onion, sliced into wedges
One red onion, sliced into wedges
2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2-inch half-moons
3 lemons, sliced into wedges (reserve half a lemon for garnish)
3 oranges (reserve half an orange for garnish)
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 lbs. of fresh spinach
2 fresh, whole snappers
An oven-safe dish large enough to hold the fish.
A saute pan large enough to hold the fish.
A broad spatula.
A large serving dish for the final presentation.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place lemon, oranges and celery into an oven-safe container. Sprinkle fresh rosemary over top.
Salt and pepper the outside and inside of the fish. Place two or three lemon and orange wedges inside the fish, along with a whole sprig of rosemary. Set aside.
In a sauté pan large enough to fit the fish, heat some extra virgin olive oil over high heat for about a minute, then add whole fish to quickly brown; roughly 2-3 minutes on each side.
Remove fish from heat and drape over the onion, citrus and celery medley. Place in the oven for 13-15 minutes to cook through.
Meanwhile, add an extra drizzle of olive oil to the same pan you used for browning the fish and add the peeled garlic, fresh spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Heat over medium-high heat on the stovetop, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all the leaves wilt, about 3-4 minutes..
When the fish is done, remove from the oven and place on a serving dish. Surround the fish with the cooked onion, celery and citrus medley. Add cooked spinach. Squeeze half a lemon and orange over the fish and spinach for a bright, fresh burst of Florida flavor.
When serving, carefully remove one side of the fish at a time, taking care not to upset the bones. Feeling artsy? Add finely sliced lemon circles as a garnish.