One of my absolute favorite featured recipes on this column was the Grilled Scallops and Rhubarb Relish by Dan George of New England-based catering company Smoke & Pickles, and beautifully photographed by Paul Clancy. Every time I get an email from Dan, I’m transported to a magical calm and rudimentary beachside cabana where I only eat great food and enjoy beautiful scenery. Maybe that’s because he always sends a note when he’s in one of those cabanas! All the same, one of my culinary goals is to be somewhere Dan is grilling. This week, he’s roasting a whole fish for us. After living in Italy for a while, I very much enjoy cooking a whole fish and look forward to trying Dan’s technique this summer. — Kristina
About Smoke & Pickles: When people gather at ritual events to marry, graduate, confirm their faith in a God . . . or to dance at their impending funerals upon turning 40, we caterers are often asked to help stage celebrations meant to transition them out of ordinary time and space. For us at Smoke & Pickles, that begins by cooking with fire on site. Primal elements like fire and wood seem to help people change gears. A wood fire’s flavor is so transporting that some are inclined to stampede after just a whiff or two. The hosts have asked us to help express their esteem and affection for their guests. That no one will go home hungry seems assured when food is so entirely and abundantly presented.
Learn how simple it is to roast a whole fish after the jump . . .
You can do this indoors, but if your heat happens to come from a low, smoky wood fire, guests will beg you for the recipe. They will find it hard to believe that nothing more than a fresh, entire fish (minus innards and gills, of course) is the only ingredient required. If they insist on more detail, tell them this:
Any backyard wood-fire cooking contraption will do, especially if it has anything resembling a lid to help capture or direct some of its heat and smoke toward an adjacent fish. “Adjacent’’ because the fish shouldn’t be so directly over or close to the fire as to overheat. Lightly oil the surface of the skin side that’s down to ease intact removal later when the fish is done. If it has scales, no need for oil; just scale one side and place the other/scaly side down. Fish is done when pierced with a fork where thickest behind the head with little or no resistance felt all the way to the backbone.
- a bunch of chives and/or other fresh herb(s) you might like
- some good olive oil
- salt + freshly cracked black pepper
- a lemon or two
Combine however you like, but wait to squeeze in the lemon until just before serving so the green herbs don’t have time to yellow. Call it salsa verde, gremolata, chimichurri, vinaigrette or what you will. These flavors have prowled oceans in search of fish for centuries.
We like to serve whole fish on wooden planks, but any flat platter will do.
The skin peels off like a banana. Start behind the head and peel toward the tail, lightly seasoning and saucing with citrus and herbs as you go. With tongs, begin to serve the soft, moist loin and flank you’ve just exposed until the skeleton is all that lies between you and the rest of the fish. Remove the skeleton by snapping it free of the tail, then lifting it up and away from the tail toward the head before snapping it off there, as well. Now sauce again and serve the rest.
Why Dan Loves This Recipe
Roasting a fish whole — head, tail, fins and all, big or small — appeals to me. Sealed in its skin while poaching gently over a wood fire in its own juices at no more than 200–250 degrees nudges it toward succulence. This technique must be prehistoric. If not, it has certainly withstood the test of time during my own life: It’s what we served at our wedding 35 years ago using a sawed-off barrel on a beach and remains perhaps the most frequently requested entree at weddings that we cater to this day.