Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Whole Fish, Glued Fish

Hethyr:  One of the greatest parts about my job is the relationships I have built with the staff at the grocery stores in which I shop.  Not only is it fun to be able to talk to familiar people as I shop, but sometimes I even get preferential treatment!  I often get the inside scoop on upcoming specials, employees will offer to go to the back to get me top quality produce which hasn’t yet been shelved and sometimes, like the other day, one of them will even track me down in the store to tell me something awesome has just come in off the truck.

"Eat me!"
I was at the seafood counter at Whole Foods shopping for a client the other day when one of the fishmongers told me what the upcoming weekend had in store (no pun intended) for them.  It was their 7th anniversary and they had all kinds of events planned.  He mentioned a couple of specials they’d be having including a sale on whole yellowtail snapper, which they only get in occasionally.  I’d purchased one a few weeks prior and it was absolutely beautiful and delicious (Jon didn’t think it was quite as pretty as I did!).  I knew that I wouldn’t be making a trip to Whole Foods while they were having the sale so I was bummed that I’d be missing out but wished the guys luck and went on my way.  About halfway through the store I heard someone yelling.  I didn’t really pay attention because employees are often yelling instructions/information back and forth to each other.  Well, a couple of yells later, I realized it was Adam, one of the fishmongers, yelling at me and then he appeared at the end of the aisle waving a gorgeous yellowtail snapper.  “I didn’t think they were coming until tomorrow, but they just unloaded these off the truck!”  So I made my way back to the seafood counter while they wrapped up a two or three pound beauty for me at the special sale price that wouldn’t be available until the next day.  I think it cost $18 and it fed us for three meals.  If you break it down, that’s $3 per person per meal.  That’s a heck of a lot less expensive than what you’d pay in a restaurant for the same thing.

The first night, I stuffed the fish with butter and herbs and baked it whole.  The second night, I flaked it and made it into AMAZING curried fish cakes that fed us for the next two days.  In the following recipes, feel free to substitute any mild white fish for the yellowtail snapper if you can’t find it.  If you can find it, I really recommend trying it.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch rates it as a good alternative and notes that “a recent assessment of yellowtail snapper suggests that the population is healthy and abundant.”

In the fishcakes, I use millet as an ingredient.  Millet is an ancient gluten-free, easily digested whole grain that is high in protein, fiber, B-vitamins and minerals.  It is very versatile and can be enjoyed with savory or sweet ingredients (think side dish with dinner or a breakfast cereal).  Find more information and a few great millet recipes here.  As always, I’d love to hear your comments on how you adapt these recipes to suit your tastes or to use what you have on hand.  So try one or both of these recipes... just for the halibut!

Baked Whole Yellowtail Snapper with Herbs
Serves 2 to 6 (depending on whether or not you want leftovers)
  • 1 whole yellowtail snapper, about 2 to 3 pounds, cleaned
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • Fresh herbs of your choice (I used rosemary and thyme)
  • Salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Chop herbs and mix with softened butter.  Season cavity with salt and pepper and stuff with herb butter.  Rub outside of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

2.  Place fish on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

3.  If desired, save leftovers for curried fish cakes.

Curried Fish Cakes with Cilantro-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4 (2 fish cakes per person)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup celery, diced
  • 2 cups cooked millet (see directions here)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 pound yellowtail snapper, cooked and flaked
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • Oil
1.  In blender or food processor, combine yogurt, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper.  Blend until smooth.  Set aside.

2.  Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion and celery until softened.  Cool slightly.

3.  Toss cooked millet with ground flaxseed until millet is well coated.  Add flaked fish, scallions, almonds, raisins, curry powder, salt and pepper, onion and celery, Dijon mustard and eggs.  Stir together with a fork until well combined.  Divide mixture into eight equal portions and form into 8 patties, each about 1/2-inch thick.

4.  Heat 1/4” of oil over medium heat in large skillet.  When oil is hot, carefully add fish cakes and cook for approximately four minutes per side or until golden brown and hot throughout.  Drain on paper towels, then serve with Cilantro-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce.
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Jon:  Let's face it... cooking can be gross, especially for carnivores.  I've definitely seen Hethyr make tremendous progress over time with her ability to handle the less pleasant side of cheffing.  For example, as recently as three or four years ago she could barely touch a piece of raw chicken without gagging.  Since then I've witnessed her go elbow deep while stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey like some poultry proctologist without so much as batting an eye.  She's come a long way.

A picture of Hethyr stuffing the fish.
But despite the progress she's made, it's a whole different story when dinner is still wearing its head. After flopping the snapper out of the wrapping paper and onto the baking sheet, it was impossible to ignore the fact that he did, in fact, still have his head.  Hethyr refused my offer to prep him so she proceeded with lathering him up with olive oil and stuffing him full of butter and herbs on her own. Despite the presence of the ominous head, Hethyr once again persevered and overcame her fears. Dinner was delicious.

Garr waiting for his shot
at the snapper.
Our dog Garr, however, has no such concerns regarding either fish or fish heads.  He spends most of his life waiting just outside the kitchen watching everything that Hethyr does and basking in the smells that she creates.  He goes pretty nuts over the smell of fish in the kitchen.  As you've probably figured out by now, Garr is actually named after a fish.  That is thanks to Hethyr's sister Shaye who has an uncanny ability to give names to animals and children that seem perplexing at first but fit perfectly later down the road.  For example, Gar fish are known for their elongated bodies and rows of long sharp teeth.  Garr is also known for his elongated body and has rows of short crooked teeth that are too big to fit in his mouth.  Both can be violent and dangerous if poked or prodded.  And I believe that both are of roughly equal intelligence.


  1. Love the Garr / Gar comparison! So very true. :-)
    But about that fish . . . I think we'll have to skip the first night, and go straight to the fish cakes. I cannot eat something that is looking at me -- I have tried with fresh lobster, and when I pass up lobster there is something seriously wrong. However, the fish cakes sound superb! Off to the sponge docks for fresh fish!

  2. Great post... and poultry proctologist... bwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhaaaaaaa!

    I love the versatility, that you used the whole fish, and that you referenced the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood guide. It is the best, in my fish opinion. They are gorgeous organisms, they really are. And, I think that despite the gross-factor in preparing them from a whole body, it is a lesson in knowing where your food comes from. When we take away the head, for example, of an organism that we consume, that we depend on for nourishment, we lose sight of that very idea... that it was once an organism. This is where the respect and care gets lost as well and we are so easily able to move to industrial "meat" production... producing protein only, rather than transitioning an animal into something that nourishes us. Going back to the head is a great idea in reconnecting us with our food.

    P.S. I was the same way about chicken a while ago but can go all in now, no problem! ;-)