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WaterLine photo by Chef Tim Spain This whole roasted black sea bass is a treat for the eyes and the palate. (If you don't like it looking at you, you can remove the head.)

Last Saturday morning I was listening to Radio WaterLine and the boys were talking about all the snappers that were being caught. I thought I’d try and catch some inshore mangroves and do another snapper recipe. Well, that didn’t work out too well — nature reminded me that it’s called fishing, not catching. I caught fish, but none were keeper snapper.

So, what was I to do? I decided to go buy some black seabass instead. I decided I’d roast them whole because they weren’t very big, and I think it’s a waste to fillet tiny fish.

Since they were on the smaller side, I decided to stuff them with something. Crab meat is always good, but I didn’t have any on hand. However, I did have some prosciutto, shallots, scallions and garlic. I threw all that into the food processor and blended until it was smooth. The prosciutto added just enough fat to make the little bass taste great, and the other ingredients made it even better.

Black seabass aren’t very common around here. After speaking with my publisher, I learned they’re usually a little further north of us. It’s not impossible to catch them here, but they’re just incindentals while targeting other reef fish. You just might have a better chance of getting some if you fish the waters of Tampa Bay.

If I had caught some snapper or grunts, I would have cooked them the exact same way I did with these little black seabass. Keep this recipe in mind when you’re wondering how you might cook your next snapper, or any other smaller fish with mild white meat. (For you freshwater fishermen, tilapia and Mayan cichlids would be excellent this way.) Don’t forget the deep scores on both sides of the fish — that ensures it’s cooked all the way through.

I have to say that I was very happy way the way this dish came together. I’ll definitely be putting this dish on my event order guide so it came be offered at my private caterings and culinary classes.

I didn’t have a lot of time, since it was already after deadline as I was preparing the dish and writing my column at the same time. I needed a sauce and didn’t have time to make one. But I did have some leftover Dijon aioli that I had served with salmon at a recent event, so that’s what I paired with the fish. It was wonderful.

A glass of chardonnay would have been a great pairing. Although I do like an occasional adult beverage, I don’t drink while working with knives. Simple rule: Alcohol and knives don’t mix. If you’re enjoying an adult beverage at home while cooking, be careful and don’t cut yourself.

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.

Stuffed roasted fish

4 fresh whole fish, about 1 pound each

4 cloves fresh garlic

1 bunch scallion greens

2 small fresh shallots

8 slices prosciutto

Montreal seasoning

1 cup mayonnaise

Zest and juice of one lemon

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 pinch salt

2 tbsp olive oil (optional)

1 sprig fresh parsley (optional)

Prepare your fish by scaling, gutting and removing the gills. (Fins and heads can also be removed if you wish.) Preheat oven to 350°F. Place three garlic cloves, shallots, scallions and prosciutto in the food processor and blend until smooth. Rinse each fish with cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle with Montreal seasoning, then stuff each fish with the pureed stuffing mix. Place fish in a roasting pan and roast them uncovered for 11 minutes. While they’re roasting, wash your food processor bucket and make your aioli by blending the mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, that last clove of garlic and salt until smooth. If desired, blend olive oil and parsley to make a colorful serving sauce. Serves 4.

— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.

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