It’s the first Friday of Lent as I write this, and I’ve been inspired to produce something appropriate for the occasion. If you eat a lot of fish during Lent (the period of restraint and penitence that Christians observe in the weeks after Ash Wednesday and before Easter), it’s easy to get bored – unless you change up your recipes regularly. Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is not only a tasty fish but an environmentally sound selection, even though it’s still considered vulnerable and the fish population is still below target levels. To quote the NOAA Fish Watch, “U.S. wild-caught red snapper is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under rebuilding plans that allow limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.” In other words, Red Snapper is slowly recovering under the current harvesting plan.
Northern Red Snapper is found in the Atlantic off the Southeastern U.S., in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf of Mexico. It is wild caught from North Carolina to Texas. Many of us may not get the opportunity to try it freshly caught while visiting the Atlantic or Gulf coasts or the Caribbean, but with air shipping of freshly caught fish on ice, we can buy it and try it at home. Beautiful whole snapper and conveniently scaled and boned fillets can be found in most large cities and on many restaurant menus.
Which raises the question: how best to cook this fish at home? It just so happens that a Mediterranean approach is particularly suitable: grill it, broil it or roast it, but do use good-quality olive oil, lemons, garlic, and plenty of sweet peppers. I couldn’t decide whether to use a Greek, Italian or Provençal approach, so I decided to borrow a little bit from each cuisine. Add the optional zucchini (see note at the end of the recipe), and you can imagine yourself enjoying this at an outdoor café on the Riviera!
Riviera Red Snapper serves 6-8
2 lbs. boned Red Snapper fillet, skin on
1 pat of sweet unsalted butter (about ½ tbsp.)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
½ tsp. anchovy paste
1 whole dried bay leaf, finely crushed
5 whole dried green peppercorns, finely crushed in a mortar
1 tsp. crushed basil from a tube* or 1 tsp. pesto
1 tbsp. crushed oregano in a tube*
½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp. dried marjoram
½ tsp. ground savory
½ tsp. ground coriander
1-2 drops Tabasco
2-3 drops Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Kosher salt, to taste
1 large sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into ½-inch strips
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into ½-inch strips
1 small shallot, trimmed and minced
Pinch of celery salt
Olive oil spray
* Fresh minced herbs in a tube can be found in the produce section of many groceries. They’re very convenient and keep longer in your refrigerator than fresh herbs.
- Let the fish come to room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients. Season it on both sides with Kosher salt and set it skin side down in a rectangular glass baking dish large enough to fit the fillet. Set aside while you make the marinade.
- In a small saucepan, combine the next 18 ingredients except for the lemon juice and salt; whisk together until blended and warm through over a medium low simmer – do not boil. Remove from heat and let it cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in the lemon juice. Brush the surface of the fillet generously with the herb marinade and let it sit while you prepare the peppers. Warm up a skillet over medium heat and spray the inside with olive oil; add the sliced peppers and celery salt and sauté until they give off water and the water has begun to evaporate. Add the shallots and continue to sauté until the shallots have softened. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
- Start your broiler. Adjust the broiler shelf so that the top surface of the fish will be about 9 to 10 inches from the flame. Brush more marinade over the fish and broil for about 10-11 minutes, until the center of the fillet begins to flake to the touch (test it with the side of a fork after 10 minutes; if it doesn’t flake yet, give the fish another 1 to 3 minutes under the broiler but keep a sharp eye on it. Remove promptly when the fish is done. While the fish rests, combine the rest of the marinade with the sautéed peppers and warm them through. Arrange fish on a serving platter and spoon the warm pepper mixture over the top of the fillet. Serve immediately.
Wine suggestion: A crisp, dry white wine such as a Pinot Grigio, Vernaccia or Albariño is perfect, but a dry yet fruity rosé will also stand up to the richness of the fish.
Note: If you’d prefer more vegetables with your fish, you can add a sliced fresh zucchini to the sautéed peppers – but first you have to prepare it so that it doesn’t get soggy when you fry it. Just wash, dry and slice the zucchini, then spread out the slices on paper towels and sprinkle some salt on the zucchini and let it sit for 10 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the excess water, and the zucchini slices will remain more crisp when you cook them. Add them to the sautéed peppers after their water has evaporated from the pan and the peppers have softened but before you add the minced shallots. If you add zucchini, you may have to add a bit more olive oil spray to sauté the shallots and keep them from sticking.
Photo credit: Close-up of Northern Red Snapper at left courtesy of Geeklikepi via Wikimedia Commons