While I was growing up, my family didn’t have seafood very often. We lived in a land-locked area of Texas, so freshly caught stuff wasn’t readily available. We sometimes dined on fried catfish and the occasional salmon cake. I really loved my mom’s fried catfish, but other than that, I was fine with not eating much seafood.
Then I moved to New York. First of all, I married someone who did grow up eating seafood and wasn’t about to give it up. Second of all, New York is on the water, so you can get local, fresh seafood from its waters, and from up and down the coast. And lastly, I realized there were tons of fish and shellfish I had literally never tried once, so I didn’t really know for certain that I didn’t like them. I had never tried swordfish, or non-canned tuna, or mussels, or clams, or fresh sardines, or mako shark, or mahi-mahi. Part of my resolve to eat better included just diving in and trying all that seafood.
You know what? I love seafood!! And I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking it, too. I was terrible at first, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was still fun to experiment. I can now pull off a perfectly flaky fish fillet, consistently. But what about a whole fish? That’s a different ballgame. But, I’m ready to play with the big boys, so let’s do it.
I chose this recipe to use up some of my habanero mash. The recipe called for four small, single serving whole snappers. I could only find a huge one from my fishmonger. So we bought one large snapper and proceeded with the marinade, figuring we’d just guess at cooking times. Well, we guessed wrong, but only by a little bit. It was slightly undercooked, and we couldn’t eat the slim layer closest to the bones. But the skin crisped up beautifully, and the flavorful marinade was spicy and delicious. And given there are only two of us, it was still plenty of food. Next time I think I would try harder to find small, individual serving snappers, so that’s how I’ll write it. The way it was intended, not with my screw-up.
Source: BBQ USA, by Steven Raichlen
4 small snappers, each 1 to 1 1/2 lbs., cleaned
1 to 3 habaneros, stemmed and seeded
4 large scallions, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 piece (1/2 inch) ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tbs fresh cilantro
1 tsp fresh or dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs dark rum
1 tbs fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
2 tsp soy sauce
2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 1 hour, then drained
Trim the fins off the fish using kitchen shears. Rinse fish under cold water, then blot dry with paper towels. Make 3 to 4 deep slashes diagonally in the flesh of each fish. Place fish in a baking dish.
Place the chile peppers, scallions, garlic, shallot, ginger, cilantro, thyme, salt, brown sugar, allspice, pepper, and cinnamon in a food processor and finely chop. Add the oil, rum, lime juice and soy sauce and 1 tbs water and process until it’s a smooth paste.
Stuff some of the jerk seasoning into the fish cavities and some into the slits in the sides of the fish. Spread the remaining jerk seasoning over the fish and let marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour, turning once or twice.
Set up a grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Pour the wood chips over the coals when they are ready.
When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Grill the fish 6 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the size, turning gently with a fish spatula. To test for doneness, press the flesh with your finger: it will break into clean flakes when fully cooked. The flesh will come cleanly away from the bones when pried loose with the tip of a paring knife and a slender metal skewer inserted into the thickest part of the fish for 20 seconds should come out very hot to the touch. Transfer the grilled fish to a platter and serve at once with lime wedges.