On a visit to Mamma’s seaside farmlette in South Norwalk, CT, we stopped by the SoNo Marketplace, an indoor collection of “foodies, artists and tastemakers” with a seasonal, outdoor farm stand. The marketplace does what SoNo is best known for: seafood. And golly, it was slammin’! We had a disastrously good platter of fried scallops, shrimp and cod with the appropriate fixin’s of lemon wedges, tartar and cocktail sauce. Washed down with cold beer, of course. As if we hadn’t filled enough, I teetered over to the fresh fish stand and met the charming vendor from Tilden Seafood. The way he spoke of fish was like a king admiring his best jewels. This is how we ended up with two massive red snappers for family dinner. I couldn’t resist. Plus they were fresh as can be and passed the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide test.
In America, we tend to buy and eat animals headless. But when it comes to fish, the head can be telling! Clear, bright eyes and rich, red gills indicate premium freshness. Dull eyes and faded, brick red gills should be avoided. Coasting down the length of the fish, you’ll want to choose one with shiny, metallic scales, that are never faded or discolored. Your nose is also a handy radar: fish should smell like clean water. Bad-smelling fish won’t improve with cooking and is likely on its way to putrefaction.
Whenever I’m in Mamma’s kitchen, I take her lead. She is my greatest and most trusted culinary teacher. She advised we stuff the fish with fresh summer herbs and lemons and cook it on the grill. So I (wo)manned up the grill, with my brother-in-law Nolan to keep my wine topped up and my laughs in order. Note: a beverage, of any sort, and good company is essential to grilling.
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Grilled Red Snapper stuffed with Lemon & Summer Herbs
Ask your fishmonger to scale the fish and clean out the insides for you, making a clean incision along the belly for stuffing in your herbs. It’s easy to do on your own, but a bit gruesome if you’re not into blood and spikey scales. If you’re up for the adventure, order a fish tool and read Seared Fish with Spicy Mango-Garlic Sauce.
- 2 whole red snapper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper
- a handful of summer herbs: basil, oregano, thyme, lemon balm
- 1 lemon, cut into slices
- Clean the grill rack, then fire up the grill to medium-high. Let it get hot while you prepare the fish.
- Rinse the fish, outside and inside. Pat dry with paper towel. Lay on a plate. Snip off the fins with sharp scissors (keep the tails – they make for a yummy crunchy bite off the grill).
- Brush both sides of the fish generously with olive oil.
- Sprinkle a generous coating of salt & pepper on both sides of the fish.
- Stuff the herbs and lemon slices into the incision in the belly.
- Lay the fish in the middle of the grill and cover the grill to keep the fish moist. Cook for about 7 minutes. Scoot a spatula carefully under the fish so the skin doesn’t stick to the grill and the fish doesn’t fall apart – flip!
- Cook the other side of the fish, grill closed, for about 7 more minutes.
- Insert a knife into the thickest part of the fish to see if it’s done: the flesh should be white and flaky.
- Remove the fish and transfer to a bed of herbs on a platter. You can filet the fish (watch: how to filet cooked fish) before serving, and don’t forget to pass around the lemon wedges.