Whole Fish with a Cajun-Style Spice Rub

Even though there is nothing more public and open than posting articles and thoughts on the internet, I for some reason believe I am being somewhat anonymous when I write on this blog.  This sense of anonimity is exactly why I don't feel embarassed telling you that when I ate this cajun-style whole fish I licked my fingers, then picked through the bones, ate everything I could, and then licked my fingers again.  I think there is something intimidating about cooking whole fish and most people shy away from it, which in my opinion is a shame because it's extremely fast and easy, and also because, just as with cooking a whole chicken or leg of lamb, when you eat the meat right off the bone it tastes infinitely better. 

I have had the desire to make a whole fish since my recent trip to Nassau, Bahamas, where I gladly partook in some of the local fare, consisting of seafood items such as snapper, conch, and stone crab claws. While there I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of the stone crab claws and bahamian-style whole red snapper that I ordered one evening at the Poop Deck (if you find yourself on this island, I hope you go there and let me know if you liked it).

Ever since the end of that meal I've been dreaming about how to remake this fish at home.  To be honest I can't say if what I've come up with is accurate, but it is nonetheless delicious and finger-licking good. The type of fish you use is pretty flexible, I would suggest trying sea bass, sea bream, red snapper, trout, or grouper.  The type of fish is less important than the size; if making this for yourself, a fish of about 1 lb should suffice.  If making this for you and one other person, you can either buy two 1-lb fish or one larger, 2-lb fish; just see my note about the cooking time in the directions.

You can definitely find whole fish at a fish market, such as The Lobster Place in nyc, Legal Seafoods Fish Markets in various New England locations, or any other local place, and you will likely find them at supermarkets with a fish section, such as Roche Brothers, Whole Foods Market, or Citarella. Simply ask if they have whole fish; if they do, ask them to gut it and scale it for you, which is pretty standard procedure.  At this point the fish is ready to be taken home and stuffed and rubbed with whatever spices and seasonings you'd like.

Bahamian-Style Whole Fish - serves 1

I created my own spice rub for this recipe with what I had available in my kitchen; feel free to add dried thyme or garlic powder to this combination.  Alternatively, you can buy a bottled cajun spice rub if you so desire/if that's easier for you, I'm sure it will come out great.

1 1-lb fish, such as snapper, sea bass, striped bass/rockfish, sea bream, trout, or grouper, gutted and scaled
Coarse sea salt (regular salt is fine too)
1 tsp. each of chili powder, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, dried oregano, salt
A few fresh thyme or oregano sprigs
3-4 lemon wedges
Whole peppercorns
Olive oil

If grilling, prepare the grill to medium heat and brush grates thoroughly with oil.
1.  Wash and rinse the fish thoroughly of any grime or remaining guts; pat dry with a paper towel.
2.  Rub outside of fish with about 1/2- tablespoon of salt, or more (the salt makes a huge difference, please don't be shy with it); pour about 1 tsp in the cavity/belly and rub around the insides.
3.  Mix together spices and rub about 1/3 of the mixture into the cavity; stuff the thyme/oregano sprigs, lemon wedges, and whole peppercorns in the cavity as well.
4.  Make 3 slits on each side of the fish to help ensure even cooking.

(These fish were stuffed for a different meal but you get the idea)

5.  If using a skillet: Heat a large skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil and swish around to coat the pan evenly. Once oil is hot (shouldn't take long, about 30 seconds), add the fish; immediately push the fish around a bit with a spatula to make sure the oil is spread evenly and the fish doesn't stick to the skillet.
If using a grill: Add fish across grates directly over heating element.
For both methods: Cook until bottom side is cooked through, about 10 minutes (note: cooking time varies depending on thickness of fish; general rule of thumb is 10 minutes/inch of thickness).
7.  Using one or two large spatulas, flip the fish over and continue to cook until done, about 10 minutes longer (to ensure crispy skin, you may want to add some more oil to the skillet, and push the fish around).
8.  Meanwhile, using a brush or paper towels, rub top side of fish thoroughly with more of the spice rub.  Flip over once more, and rub top side thoroughly again with the spice rub.
9.  Place on a platter or plate; some serving suggestions are wild rice, steamed vegetables, or parboiled/fried potatoes.


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