Careening through the aisles of Costco in a carefully orchestrated path that circles around the wine bins and heads toward the fresh fish section, I quickly snatched up a length of fresh Sockeye salmon and was headed to the giant refrigerated produce room, when I spied a package of three colorful, whole fish in an Asian lady’s cart. I screeched to a halt to ask her what kind of fish it was – she replied, “red snapper”; and I asked her how she prepared it and she stated, “steamed with just some soy sauce and ginger” and added that she uses the head for soup, and smiled knowingly.
I laughed because I knew why she was smiling. Most Americans are squeamish just seeing a whole fish with the eyes staring back at them, have to make the obligatory “ewww” and “gross” exclamations, and wouldn’t even consider having a whole fish presented to them on a plate, much less eat the head or the eyeballs. Being half Asian, I know that Asians (and other cultures, too) do not let any part of a fish go to waste. The nice lady pointed to where the fish was in the case and said there was just one package left – I raced over and grabbed it. The eyes were clear, the gills bright red and the skin shiny – indicators of a good, fresh fish.
Personally, I think a whole fish, beautifully prepared and surrounded by fresh herbs and a fragrant sauce, makes for a striking presentation. Years ago, one of our favorite places to dine was Five Feet in Laguna Beach – and their signature whole catfish was the main reason.
On this day, I decided to grill the fish rather than steam it – mainly because I didn’t have a pan large enough, but also because grilling ensures that your whole house won’t smell like fish! A grill basket comes in handy, but isn’t necessary – before grilling use a paper towel, or your hands, to spread oil on the fish to prevent it from sticking.
Grilled Whole Fish with Soy Ginger Sauce
1 whole red snapper per person (cleaned and scaled)
1 bunch of green onions, washed and sliced into 1½ pieces
Heat the grill to medium-high.
Oil the outside of the fish with sesame oil and stuff fresh cilantro and sliced lime inside the fish cavity. Other herbs and lemon can easily be substituted.
For the sauce:
1/3 cup of soy sauce (I use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
You could also add minced garlic and a teaspoon or so of chili sauce.
Place the fish on a rimless cookie sheet and slide onto the grill. Grill with lid closed for 6-8 minutes, depending on thickness. Flip and grill on the second side until the flesh is opaque (white) and flakes easily, another 6-8 minutes. Remove the fish from the grill using a fish spatula and slide onto the cookie sheet.
The head was removed in the final shot to protect the innocent and the squeamish.
If you happen to have a fisherman in your house, or buy fresh fish that hasn’t been cleaned or scaled, visit Jaden at Steamy Kitchen for tips – she’s a fabulous cook, the author of the Steamy Kitchen cookbook, and has a funny, irreverent style.