Caribbean Style Steamed Whole Snapper

Whole fish always seems to remind me of being beach side in the Caribbean at a plastic table while someone who has downloaded generations worth of fishing and seafood cooking into their brains whips up a beautiful dinner for me with a handful of fresh and simple ingredients. It's a bit of a device of transportation, give me a whole fish and suddenly I can remember every place on the planet I've ever eaten one before.

At some point, also beach side at a plastic royal blue table, my dad taught me how exactly I'm to eat a whole fish to avoid chomping on and poking myself with bones and I've been at it ever since.

I've been table side with a few people in front of whole fish, once in Colombia when I found myself at a communal dinner with visitors from across the globe where we were fixed whatever was in the market that day. Seeing as we were sitting on a beach side cliff, fish was on the menu. Six of eight people at the table perched their fork over their plates and hesitated, peering down at the whole fish wondering where exactly to start. The other two people were a vegetarian and, myself. I quickly walked them through how to eat the fish, some listened and got it, others having already dug into the thing and pulled fishbones out of their mouths all night.

Aside from them appearing daunting to navigate, fish have eyeballs, and teeth, which I suppose may weird you out but if you're not a vegetarian many of the things we eat have heads but we don't often see them. As a kid out for a fancy dinner I ordered a whole lobster, having only ever eaten the tail meat previously I thought the rest of the lobster was built of the same stuff and I was upgrading BIGTIME. Turned out the lobster had eyes and antennae and they wiggled as the server put down my plate. I stared at the lobster and he stared at me and.... my parents ate him because I was convinced he wasn't dead.

So, I get it... I do.

A whole fish is simply good food, no matter how you learned to eat it. It can be done with a knife and fork but every once in awhile using your hands is advised, like removing a stray bone, or removing the tail and especially when you have done your best and you get to picking at the fleshy soft parts that escaped your fork. This recipe highlights all the West Indian flavors I'm used to but allows the fish itself to shine. I use a bit of scotch bonnet pepper in this, a teaspoon or so of the pickling liquid that the heat packed peppers soak in. You can leave this out or replace with a few splashes of pepper sauce found in your grocery store (Grace brand, will serve you well) but avoid adding heat here with something like the hot sauce you would splash on catfish or dip wings in.

2 1lb red snapper, scaled and gutted
2 medium white onion sliced
2 medlium red bell peppers
2 tsps dried thyme
1 tsp whole allspice/pimiento seed
3-4 stalks of scallion, rough chopped
5 cloves garlic rough chopped
½ cup white wine
½ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Scotch Bonnet pepper, pickled or fresh, is optional and entirely up to your heat tolerance
Lime wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a heavily salted (ocean salty) bowl of cold water gently place the fish to brine for 10 to 30 minutes. We’ll brine for as long as it takes our saute to come together.

In a non-stick skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil. Add sliced onion and sliced red peppers, saute until soft. Add chopped garlic and saute until fragrant. Splash white wine into pan along with the vegetable stock/water and spices. Add scallion and simmer gently.

Remove the waiting fish from brine and place each in the center of their own large sheets of parchment. Sprinkle both sides with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Spoon some of the saute into the body cavity and on top of the fish. Fold parchment paper and roll or fold to seal. With the fish on a baking sheet, bake for 20 minutes. Open parchment and finish with a squeeze of lime all over.

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