A whole baked fish is an incredibly festive yet easy main dish for a dinner. I am not sure why I only seem to make it once or twice a year, typically around the Christmas holidays, but I really should do it more often. With a nice large lapu-lapu (read this amusing link if you haven’t before)almost always on offer at Seaside Mart in Baclaran, this should be a no-brainer for just about any of you who reside in Manila or elsewhere in the Philippines with good seafood access. I posted a similar recipe last year but here is the latest version made a couple of weeks ago. Start off with a large, say 2-3 kilo lapu-lapu and have it scaled and cleaned at the market. Even at nosebleed prices of say PHP300 a kilo, a big fish would run just under PHP1,000 and easily feed 6-8 diners as a main course. Thatâ€™s a lot cheaper than a hunk of Prime beef and lighter on the love handles.
Turn your oven on to say 375 degrees and while it is heating up, pour a bit of olive oil into a heavy duty foil pan or large stainless roasting pan and brush the bottom of the pan. Add the fish, well seasoned with salt and pepper, add thin slices of lemon from say 2-3 lemons, thin slices of peeled potatoes, thinly sliced white onions, garlic if you like, herbs such as Italian parsley in abundance, chopped canned tomatoes or fresh ripe tomatoes, olives if you like them then more olive oil and cover with some foil and stick it in the hot oven for say 50 minutes to 70 minutes, depending on size of the fish. After about 30 minutes, remove the foil and baste the fish every 15 minutes of so so one side doesnâ€™t dry out too much. Serve the fish whole and ladle the vegetables, herbs around it. As long as you have started with a fresh lapu-lapu, this dish is at the same time sweet, flaky, light and delicious. If you want an over the top meal follow the fish course with a small roast pork or some baked chicken and you have the makings of a great meal. If you make too much and have lots of leftover fish, you can flake it and make it into croquettes the next day (a misture of fish, mashed potatoes, herbs and breadcrumbs that are then deep fried).
By the way, it is apparently not normally recommended that you put something highly acidic like lemons with foil (it can actually corrode the foil!) but it seems to work if you have a heavy duty foil pan and there are other ingredients to temper the acidity. This recipe is very loose, feel free to add what you like as long as you have some citrus, some salt, herbs, etc. Iâ€™m not sure where the potatoes come from but my wifeâ€™s family cook of 40 years did the same thing and so do the classic recipes from Italy or elsewhere in the Mediterraneanâ€¦so why fool with something that works well? This dish qualifies for the Marketman/Bond 007 Diet Food list, in case you were thinking of trying to shed pounds in the weeks ahead. Other healthier dishes will be featured along with the excessive remnant posts from the holiday season in the weeks ahead. I have about 12 pounds to lose to prove the 18% of my readers who think I will fail in my stated May 1, 2007 weight goal, wrong! Heeheehee. I snicker as I have a strawberry/whey shake for breakfast…
Note: Since writing this post, I have learned that baking anything where the citrus, vinegar or other acids in the dish come in contact with the foil is a bad idea. Therefor, cooking this dish in a foil pan should be avoided, use a stainless steel or ceramic or glass pan instead… Thanks.