Feature

Whole fish, Texas-style: Plenty of theater, with little fuss

Where I come from, people don’t need a special occasion to gather friends and family for a feast.

Where I come from, people don’t need a special occasion to gather friends and family for a feast, said Lisa Fain in The Homesick Texan’s Family Table (Ten Speed Press). Holidays are great, but we’re also inclined to break bread “just because it’s a clear evening, and our friend’s back porch has a spectacular view of the sunset, or it’s a Sunday afternoon in spring, and we want to toast the arrival of our state flower, the bluebonnet.”

The dish below suits that spirit. Inspired by the Mexican seafood restaurants that line Texas’s Gulf Coast, it’s “a snap to make,” yet it “always elicits a few oohs and aahs” before guests start passing around tortillas and peppers and begin assembling their own fish tacos. The accompanying hot sauce can be used as a condiment or for dipping tortilla chips.

I like to serve the fish whole, so the tender cheek meat doesn’t go to waste. If you worry that any of your guests might be squeamish, use lime slices to cover the eyes before serving.

Recipe of the week: Roasted whole fish with jalapeños, cilantro, and lime

Roasted whole fish with jalapeños, cilantro, and lime

  • Two 1- to 1½-pound whole, head-on red snappers, scaled and gutted
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and sliced into rings
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced crosswise into rings
  • 1 lime, thinly sliced
  • Old-fashioned Texas hot sauce (recipe follows) and guacamole, for serving
  • Corn or flour tortillas, warmed, for serving

Cut three spine-to-belly slashes into each side of each fish. Place in a large ziplock bag. In a blender or food processor, combine garlic, jalapeños, ½ cup cilantro, lime juice, ¼ cup olive oil, and cumin and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour marinade over fish and seal bag. Refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours, turning bag once.

Allow fish to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Heat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toss bell pepper and onion with 1 tbsp olive oil, then arrange on baking sheet. Place fish on top of the peppers and onions, then place lime slices atop the fish. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until fish flakes. Serve the fish with the onions and peppers, passing hot sauce, guacamole, tortillas, and more chopped cilantro at the table. Serves 4.

Old-fashioned Texas hot sauce

  • 1 lb plum tomatoes, stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 jalapeños (depending on desired heat), stemmed, seeded, and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

In a large pot, combine tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tomatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes about 2 cups.

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