A spectacularly fresh fish grilled and enjoyed near the sea shore. Few things get better than this. Do yourself and the fisherfolk a favor if you are heading out of town to the beaches this weekend and DON’T bring all your food from Manila. Forget the hermetically sealed chickens, the shrink wrapped pork chops, the frozen cream dory fillets and hit a local market and buy whatever looks best instead. Bring a few staple ingredients instead like olive oil, kalamansi or lemons, soy sauce, etc. and just count on serendipity… You will probably save money, eat better, spend less in gas, and make the locals happy. Forget that prices are high for seafood this week, the premium is minor compared with the increased pleasure…
I was at the market this morning and was thrilled to find a bounty of seafood on display early in the morning. Of course prices were high, expectations all around were that seafood was the protein of choice this week, and fishermen were out in full force last night despite the bright moon. I spotted this large 2.4 kilo Maya-Maya that was so fresh, it was still gasping for air (or do they gasp for water?) so we bought it, along with a cooler full of other fish and seafood. Technically, this could be yellowlip or other related emperor fish, not strictly a red snapper, but a close relative. At PHP320 a kilo, it was say PHP40-50 more than usual, but do you really think it’s worth a quibble to save say PHP100 for a meal for 6 or more?
With a fish this fresh, locals suggest you do NOTHING to it before grilling it. They didn’t even remove the guts as they tend to just throw this on the flames and avoid the innards when they eat it. I was a bit sceptical about this totally low effort approach, so I nodded in agreement with my suki, and I took it home whole, and still alive. Back at the house, I had it de-gilled and de-gutted. Stuffed the cavity with sliced lemons, salt and pepper and some olive oil. We kept the scales on because the scales protect the skin and fish from the harsh heat of the charcoal grill.
Ideally, you want to have coals on both sides of the fish, with none directly underneath the fish, but we had so much charcoal in the Weber grill that I couldn’t do that easily. So we just plonked the fish onto the grill, covered it and waited some ten minutes before flipping it over. It looked like a fish that just swam through hell, black as sin, and scales peeling off like the tiles on a space shuttle on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere. :)
To be honest, I was a tad worried, and wondered if we had enough other food in case I completely screwed up this lovely snapper. But another 10-15 minutes on the grill and we transferred it to a serving platter, hoping for the best. It turned out great. White meat that was flaky and delicious, though perhaps just a little drier than some might like. Perfect with a dipping sauce of your choice, or enjoyed in forkfuls of fish paired with homemade acharra of green papaya or singkamas pickles.
Remember, try to buy fresh, buy local and cook it simply. :)