Bookmark this recipe if you love eating fish. This is one of the best fish recipes I have made in the past year. A day before we headed out to the beach, several balikbayan boxes arrived from Sister containing a month or more worth of leisure reading with dozens and dozens of issues of various food magazines, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Forbes, etc. Also included in the BBB’s were a couple of cookbooks, one of them, “Aquavit” I brought to the beach. Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian born chef, who grew up in Sweden from the age of three. Aquavit is a highly acclaimed New York restaurant. Many of the recipes in the cookbook sound great, but they are difficult to execute in the Philippines due to the limited availability of some key ingredients. However, one recipe seemed readily adaptable, and I had many of the ingredients on that particular beach trip, so I was hopeful I would find the right kind of fish… On the first try, this yielded an amazing WINNER, a solid 9/10 on the Marketman scale… a keeper of a recipe!
The original recipe entitled “Roasted Red Snapper with Dill Sauce” photographed as a visual stunner, yet the recipe seemed simple enough to do. The credits definitely go to Mr. Samuelsson, though I have to say I changed nearly half the ingredients as I had to make do with what we had in our limited larder. Instead of red snapper, I substituted several small red lapu-lapu. Rather than a more involved dill sauce, I simply made a dip of mayonnaise with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, chopped dill, and some of the slow-roasted garlic, salt and pepper which turned out to be a delicious foil for the baked fish. The rest of the recipe is described below.
Buy very fresh fish, either lapu-lapu (grouper) or maya-maya (snapper). Choose the roughly 500 gram size if you want a whole fish per individual serving. This plates up rather impressively. Clean the guts of the fish through its mouth, do not make an incision in the stomach area. Remove scales and tips of fins. Wash well and dry with paper towels. Season the fish stomach cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff some thinly sliced lemon rounds and dill into the stomach cavity.
Cut two slits on a diagonal on each side of each fish. Stuff this slit with lemon slices, dill and bay leaves. Season the outside of the fish with salt and pepper. Randomness is part of the fun, this isn’t a stuck up kind of dish. :)
Take two whole bulbs of garlic and slice off the “top” of the bulb, slightly exposing the cloves of garlic within. Peel and chop several (say 8-10) local red onions or shallots. Heat up a fish pan, add some olive oil, add the garlic cut side down and let this sizzle for a minute or two. Add the chopped shallots and keep pan over medium high heat. Add the fish to the pan, moving aside the garlic as necessary (turn it over so that the root end is now touching the pan). I put the shallots in for too long before adding the fish, so my shallots burned a bit, the only misstep in process. After about 3 minutes, carefully flip the fish(es) over and press down with a spatula. Turn the garlic bulbs over. Add some siling mahaba, leeks, lemongrass, whole peeled shallots, some roasted red peppers if you have them and let this saute for a minute or two more.
Stick this all into a pre-heated 400F oven for some 14-18 minutes (shorter for the 500g) sized fish. Take the pan out of the oven add about 3 tablespoons of butter and maybe a little lemon juice and move the fish to individual serving plates. Add some of the vegetables and spoon some of the sauce onto the fish.
The plate was FRAGRANT. So incredibly appetizing. I never thought aroma could beat out visual appeal, but in this case the nose was singing. The meat was perfectly cooked, delicate but firm. You had to push aside some of the aromatics and bits of dill, but overall this was just a spectacular dish. Mrs. MM and I finished one fish each and had a bit of the third even! Mash some of the softened, sweetened garlic and add it to the dill sauce and all of this just seemed so much better than the sum of the ingredients. Excellent.