Many people find cooking a whole fish to be quite a daunting task. Although it may seem just simpler to buy fish fillets, cooking the fish whole adds a rich wonderful layer of flavor and depth to the dish. The presentation can also be quite dramatic! This simple recipe is a great way to ease yourself into the idea of cooking the fish whole. I encourage you to try the recipe using a whole fish but do feel free to use fish fillets, it will be equally delicious.
Any firm white fish will work for this recipe as long as it is fresh. You can ask the fishmonger to prepare the fish by having him remove the scales, fins and the insides. You can also ask him to recommend a good fish to cook whole, it should just weigh less than 2 lbs. This will easily feed 6 people.
Indian Style PAN FRIED WHOLE FISH with Baby Tomatoes
1 medium whole firm white fish (red snapper, flounder, sea bass, bream, dorado, sole...)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
2 small Thai green chilies, finely chopped
2 cups of small baby tomatoes (red, yellow, orange...) cut in halves
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
½ tsp ground fennel seeds
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
oil, vegetable or canola
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
½ tbsp zest of lime
½ tbsp zest of orange
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 orange
pinch of sugar (if needed)
freshly chopped cilantro leaves
Thoroughly rinse the fish and pat dry. With a sharp knife, carefully score the fish by making long deep diagonal incisions about 2 inches apart on both sides of the fish. Season both sides of the fish, as well as the insides liberally with both salt and pepper.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the shallots, ginger, garlic, chilies and the spices (turmeric, ground fennel seeds, garam masala, ground cumin and ground coriander). Add the lime and orange zest, lime juice and a pinch of sugar if needed. Add 3 tbsp of oil and mix thoroughly. Pour this marinade generously over the fish, making sure to fill the inside of the fish and the incisions as well. Cover and let refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat a large deep skillet on medium high heat with enough oil to shallow fry the fish. When hot, very carefully slide the fish into the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes on one side. Gently turn the fish and cook an additional 4-5 minutes on the other side. The fish should be golden brown and flaky. Transfer to a serving platter. Add any remaining marinade to the pan along with the fresh orange juice and let simmer. Add the butter and the baby tomatoes. Let cook for 3-4 minutes or until slightly thickened. Pour over the whole fish and garnish with freshly chopped cilantro leaves. Serve hot with fragrant Basmati rice and fresh rotis or naan.