When I first started cooking a few years ago, I would always buy that which is easiest to cook – a boneless, skinless chicken breast or a skinless fish fillet. As I began to cook more, I made a discovery. There is a lot more to a chicken then just the breasts. And oftentimes, if you learn some basic skills, you can not only eat better, but you can save money in the process. After a few months, I bought a whole chicken. Never before in my life had I ever worked with one. I pulled up a few Alton Brown videos and learned how to butcher one. It took me about 25 minutes the first time, but now I can probably break one down in less than five minutes. It’s invaluable. And a whole chicken (almost 4 lbs), costs me less than $10 at the store. Compare that with your $9/lb boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breast.
So, while I’ve been buying whole chickens since, I never have forayed much into the world of seafood. Lucky for me, there is an awesome new seafood vendor in Nashville called the Louisiana Seafood Company. Two buddies from Baton Rouge have some fishing boats and drive up to Nashville every week to supply us with the freshest shrimp, crabs, crawfish, grouper, snapper, and whatever else they find. I’ve become good friends with them over the past few months and I decided it was time for me to buy the whole damn fish. I picked up an amazingly fresh gulf snapper and said I’m gonna cook it whole.
I really wanted to taste the fish, so there really isn’t even a recipe. I just stuffed the cavity of the fish with some lemon slices and fresh parsley. Sprinkled in some salt and pepper and let it sit while I fired up my grill. I put the grill on high, rubbed the fish down with some oil, and threw the fish over the smoking hot coals. I cooked it on one side until it was nicely charred, and then flipped it over to cook on the other side. Once it was nicely marked, i moved the fish over to the cooler side of the grill, put on the lid and let the fish finish cooking. I’ll tell ya – cooking a whole fish on the grill might even be easier than cooking a fish fillet, because nothing sticks to the grill.
By having the fish bones, the meat stayed beautifully moist and juicy. The skin was incredibly crisp from the hot coals. And once you learn the basic anatomy of a fish, it’s very easy to fillet. You can also get the great little pieces of meat from the collar and the cheek of the fish (but those are cook’s benefits – no one but you and me has to know!)
I didn’t dress up the fish with anything, but now that I’ve learned the technique I bet you could do all kinds of stuff – like rub it with some ginger/garlic/cilantro/lime juice (how we would make it in India), or crust it in your favorite spice rub, or make a powerful sauce with red curry, coconut, and kaffir lime. The possibilities are endless. But at the end of the day, you get a whole fish – it’s tastier, it’s usually cheaper, and you’ve just elevated yourself to some higher learning. Now isn’t that what it’s all about? Enjoy folks!
Editor’s Note: Please go check out Vivek’s personal food blog…you won’t regret it!