I love whole roasted fish. And sometimes I get sad when I hear people saying that they have never had a whole fish or are scared to. I know its easy to be drawn to the beautiful fillets set out in the grocery store, but there is so much value in cooking your fish, in its entirety, on the bone. It retains a huge amount of moisture while cooking, you can infuse a ton of flavor into it by stuffing the cavity, and when you’re done the tail becomes a crunch little treat for anyone lucky enough to grab it first. I personally haven’t ever gotten into the head of the fish but my Mom loves it.
In Cameroon, where I’m from, roasted fish is a common street food. As you walk around any city at night, the smell of spicy fish roasting over charcoal wafts up to meet you and tempt you over to one of the dozen kindly women preparing it on the side of the road. When my family travels home to Cameroon for the holidays, my brothers and I start plotting our first roasted fish outing in the airport. Usually, within 6 hours of landing we’ve secured half a dozen fish and a bucketful of the spicy, garlicky, intensely flavorful sauce that each woman makes with her own secret recipe. We’ll stay up late into the night trying to finish all the fish that our active imaginations though we could eat and then wake up in the morning with intense stomachaches and a smile on our face.
I can never duplicate that amazing experience of home, but roasting a whole fish in my kitchen is always an experience that brings waves of nostalgia.
Don’t worry — any fishmonger at a fish market or super market will clean and scale the fish for you. All you have to do when you get it home is unwrap it. If my exposition on the wonders of whole roasted fish hasn’t convinced you to try it out, then you can definitely make this with a couple of fillets—just cut the cooking time in half.
Most of the time I roast my fish in the oven, but if you have a flat top griddle you can also make this on that (just flip the fish half way through the cooking time). I used my flat top last time my oven was occupied and it turned out perfect.
- Whole snapper, cleaned
- For the Jerk Marinade:
- 2 bunches of scallions, roughly chopped
- 12 stems of fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon of ground all spice*
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 2 inches of fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 scotch bonnet peppers
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 3 tablespoons of oil
- For the Salsa
- 4 stalks of corn
- ½ of a small red onion, very finely diced
- 2 avocados, cubed**
- ½ of a red pepper, finely diced
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt to taste
- Using a small, sharp knife cut some very shallow cuts along the length of the fish, about ½ inch apart. Cover the fish completely with the marinade and put some into the inner cavity of the fish. Allow to marinate for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When you are ready to cook the fish, wipe off some of the marinade so that a thin layer still remains. Place the fish onto a well oiled baking pan. Cook for 25-30 minutes on each side depending on the size of the fish.***
- While the fish is cooking prepare the salsa. Holding the corn upright on a flat surface, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off of the cob.
- Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit from one side****
- In a large bowl toss together the corn, avocado, red pepper and red onion with the juice of one lemon and a pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before serving.
**For purposes of this salsa you want to buy pretty firm avocados. It makes them easier to cut and also allows them to hold their shape when they’re mixed into the salsa.
***For a 1 pound fish, cook for 12 minutes on each side. For a 1 ½ pound fish cook for 15 minutes on each side.
****In order to get the pit out, hold the half that has the pit in it in the palm of your hand. Take a large knife and CAREFULLY, stick the bottom of the sharp side into the pit. Once it is lodged in you can twist the pit out.