BAKED WHOLE RED SNAPPER WITH BACON (for four as a main course, for eight as part of a buffet)


olive oil

a 4-1/2 pound whole red snapper, or two smaller fish, gutted and scaled with head and tail left on

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced

1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed

5 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish

1 pound thick-sliced bacon

4 lemons

1. Take the snapper out of the refrigerator ½ hour before you plan it use it to allow it to come to room temperature. Rinse the fish under cold tap water, inside and out, and pat it dry with paper towels. Pre-heat the oven to 400* (turn it on a half hour before the fish goes in).

2. Lightly oil a large, shallow oven-to-table baking dish. (Once cooked, a large fish is very difficult to move intact. It is much easier to serve the fish in the dish you bake it in. Your dish needs to be oven-proof, large enough to accommodate the fish, deep enough to hold a sauce and attractive enough to use on the table).

3. Finely dice 6 slices of bacon and thinly slice 2 lemons. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons coarse salt down the center of the baking dish, then lay half the lemon slices on the salt. Scatter a handful of parsley and thyme sprigs and half of the bacon over the lemons.

4. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the sliced onions and the remaining parsley and thyme. Lay the fish on top of the lemon and herbs in the baking dish, Lay the remaining lemon slices on top of the fish and scatter the remaining bacon over all. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons coarse salt.

5. Slide the dish into the middle of the oven, and bake it 45 minutes, or until the fish just flakes (use a fork to test doneness, and make sure you check all the way through to the bone. The flesh should be white and flaky, not translucent. You don’t want to overcook it, but you don’t want sushi, either). If the bacon has not browned sufficiently, run it under the broiler briefly. Serve with the remaining lemons.

NOTE: The fish can be cooked on the grill (but removing it to a platter when it is done is not easy). Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and fill the cavity with onions, parsley and thyme. Wrap overlapping slices of bacon around the center of the fish (not head or tail), slide fish onto a cookie sheet and transfer to a heated grill (the charcoal should be glowing red, with white ash and no flames). Cover and grill fish, without turning, until it is cooked through and bacon is golden, about 45 minutes.

from Saveur Magazine, September/October, 1998

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