With just over two weeks remaining in Great Lent, we are excited to have a day to eat fish. Fish can be eaten on March 25th and Palm Sunday. With that, for the 25th of March, we did just that! To celebrate the two Feast Days (Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos and Greek Independence Day), we thought it would be interesting to have a fish that may be less traditional for this day. Typically, Greeks and Orthodox Christians will enjoy fried bakalao (fried salted cod) with skordalia (garlic sauce). We made skordalia, but we chose another fish that is common in Greece, we chose the yellow snapper.
By the way, eating fish is also permitted on Palm Sunday, so we may prepare this dish (using yellow snapper or another whole fish) again next week.
Now, as we were having dinner, one person asked if there was any difference between yellow snapper and red snapper, because he had heard of red snapper. The truth is, they are just different colours. They are considered cousins, but have the same firm, yet delicate texture, mild flavour, and present beautifully on a plate. We liked the idea of having a bright and colourful fish on our plates, so we chose the snapper over porgy or tilapia.
Cooking fish is easy, especially if you have a fresh fish from a fish monger who cleans it and scales it for you. All you really need to do is drizzle some oil over the fish, sprinkle some salt and pepper, maybe some oregano, and grill it, broil it, or bake it. The key is getting fresh fish. Yesterday, we wrote about choosing fish. Today, it is all about the filling.
So, for this recipe, you will need the following:
2 onions (red or white)
1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (in this case, sliced mini portabellas)
1 cup parsley
1 stalk celery
1 cup bread crumbs (we used Panko)
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon to garnish
Start by setting aside the fish and chopping all of the other ingredients. Slice the onions, celery, leeks, mushrooms, and garlic. You can chop the parsley or leave the florets whole -- we left ours whole. We also sliced the lemon to get ready for the garnish, and now the process moves quickly.
The first step is to use medium-high heat to heat a little oil in a frying pan. Saute the onions, leeks, celery and garlic, just long enough for everything to become almost soft. This should be about 5 minutes. You want to make sure to maintain the lovely colours of the ingredients without adding any carmelization. Season with a little salt and pepper. Then, add the mushrooms and the parsley. Cook this for another 5 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to get soft. Mix this well.
You are going to notice that there is some liquid in the pan from the onions and the mushrooms. That's okay, because now we are going to add the bread crumbs to absorb some of that. Mix the bread crumbs well, so they are evenly spread around the filling. Turn off the heat, and/or remove the pan from the heat. Check your seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper. For some, a shot of white wine gets put in the filing for a bit more flavour. For others, we just let the natural liquids of the ingredients. You do not want the filling to be too wet in the frying pan because the vegetables will continue to release moisture, and the fish will release moisture. And, we are adding bread crumbs to absorb some of that moisture from the baking process, so why add more?
Once the filling is made and combined, it is time to stuff the fish. You will need a large glass baking dish with a little oil at the bottom, a spoon, the fish, and the stuffing.
Using your hands, open the cavity of the fish, where it was cleaned. Spoon in some filling to stuff the space from the jaw to the tail. Whatever cavity was created when the fish was cleaned is fine -- no need to make any of your own cuts. Scoop enough stuffing to fill the gap, and lay the fish in the glass baking dish on its side. Continue this process until all the stuffing is used and all the fish are stuffed. Laying the fish head to tail (opposite directions) in the baking dish will allow you to fit more in the dish. We baked two in the pan for photography purposes.
Now, it is time to dress the fish and get them ready to bake! Start by laying the lemon slices on top of the fish (on the side facing up). We used 3 lemon slices because 3 is a nice number and the fish was long enough for that many. Then, sprinkle some salt and pepper over the fish so it is generously covered.
Pour about one half inch of water into the pan -- you don't want the fish swimming in water, but add a little so there will be "zoumo" ("juicy sauce") when it is baked.
Then, put the fish in the oven. Bake at 350º F (about 175º C) for 25-30 minutes, until the fish is flaky, golden brown, and fully cooked. You will know it is cooked by the way the body takes on a golden, toasted edge, the eyes are baked through, and the lemons will be caramelised. Allow this to rest for about 5 minutes before you try to take the fish out of the pan. It is best to use two spatulas, so you can lift both ends simultaneously and present the entire fish. Then, serve with a little of the zoumo on top and a wedge of lemon. It is a lovely fish that has enough flavour to keep the garnishing simple.