Whole Red Snapper with Citrusy Tomato Relish
If you are from an Iraqi household, you have absolutely craved, requested and eaten Masgouf in your lifetime. The dish is an iconic, traditional Mesopotamian food and is considered the national dish of Iraq. Carp is the traditional fish of choice in the Middle East, however, we are privy to a wide selection of fish at our disposal!
Even in Arizona, the dry and hot desert, I am FINALLY able to find quality fish. I am sooooo happy that Chula Seafood has finally opened just a street up from my house! The quality and taste is unreal and worth every penny. I scored two whole snappers that were a really nice size for under $40.00, which I thought was a great price. Bonus - if you live in AZ they now deliver! So, for this recipe, get yourself a meaty slab of fish and go for it! Branzino, Halibut, even Catfish will work really well with these flavors.
Red Snapper is delicate enough to taste fresh and flaky yet meaty and firm enough to hold up to the bold and tangy flavors of the tamarind, curry and paprika. Served with the bright and citrusy tomato relish, this recipe becomes a show stopping, beauty that tastes damn good down to the last bite.
At this point, you are probably thinking that cooking a whole fish is scary and sounds complicated, right? Honestly, this is one of the easiest recipes to follow and you will feel like a gourmet cook by the time you are done. I promise, it’s not scary or hard. Just read the notes I’ve provided and you will be good to go!
Now, for all of you die-hard, tried and true Assyrian, Iraqi, or somewhere in betweener cooks, this isn’t your run of the mill Masgouf recipe. I purposefully chose not to bake the tomato relish, or ‘Hashou’, as we call it, directly on top of the fish. The fish needs to shine and the delicate taste of the meat should not be covered in curry and tomato. For this reason, it’s important to keep the seasoning on the lighter side and skip adding the fish spices to the tomato relish. If high quality ingredients are used and the seasoning is done well, your dish will be absolutely phenomenal, I swear. The tomato relish brightens up the deep flavors in the spices and the tamarind and soy in the fish sauce creates an umami blast you can’t ignore.
Notes you’ll want and need before you get started!
get the best quality fish you can buy
use a milder, yellow curry for this recipe to keep from overpowering the fish
make sure your fish is gutted and descaled before you bring it home to avoid lots of work during prep
tomato relish can be made up to a day ahead and stored in an airtight container - just gently reheat before serving
increments for fish seasoning aren’t given so that you can cook from your instincts! You’ll only want to lightly the fish with each spice and because fish weights vary, the amount you use will be different then what I used
cooking times may vary based on weight of fish - again, go with your instincts. A great way to tell if a fish is done is by checking the firmness. The fish should be firm to the touch but not tough. It will flake easily with a fork and be opaque (not translucent)
if your tamarind paste is concentrated and not mixed with water, mix with water first, THEN follow instructions accordingly for soy/tamarind mixture
make sure to mix enough water, equal parts, with the tamarind and soy so that the sugars in the tamarind and soy don’t burn in the oven
if you are making more than one fish, sear fish one at a time. Transfer each fish to a parchment lined baking sheet before baking. Wipe out the skillet before searing the next fish.
this recipe easily becomes Gluten Free when you omit the soy sauce! Just add a pinch of salt to your tamarind mixture
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You will find this recipe deeply satisfying, yet surprisingly light. It’s perfect this time of year, when the weather is starting to warm up and we are wanting something brighter and lighter. On that note, feel free to fire up the grill and just follow the first few steps before it is supposed to go into the oven. Instead of transferring it to the oven, reduce your grill to around 400 and grill in the skillet with the cover down until it’s ready!
Bonus, if you are fasting from meat for Lent, you will adore this recipe!
So, without further ado:
Whole Red Snapper – Iraqi Style with Tomato Relish
Prep 30 min Cook Time – 45 min
2 pints cherry tomatoes halved
½ yellow onion quarted and sliced
1 clove garlice, minced
1 tbs marjoram + extra tsp for garnish
1 tbs tarragon + extra tsp for garnish
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbs white vinegar
Salt to taste
1 tbs olive oil
Method - Heat a sauté pan on medium with 1tbs olive oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, 1-2 min. Add tomatoes and season with salt to taste. Sauté until tomatoes soften but still retain some shape. Add lemon juice and stir 2-3 min. Add herbs, incorporate. Add vinegar and stir another 2 min. Set aside to serve with fish.
1 2-2.5 lb whole red snapper
~1tbs Kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
~roughly 1 tsp each:
roughly ¼ tsp cayenne
2-3 sliced lemon rings
2 sliced lime rings
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 tbs tamarind, 1 tbs water, 1 tbs low sodium soy sauce - mixed
Your fish monger should have descaled, gutted and cleaned the fish properly for you. With a heavy duty kitchen shear, trim fins and dorsal fin. Trim starting from the back end of the fish towards the front. Rinse fish in very cold water to remove any loose scales and/or extra residue remaining. Thoroughly pat dry with clean paper towels.
Preheat oven to 425F
Score fish with a pairing knife on both sides of fish, carful not to score all the way to the bone. Season generously all over with salt and pepper, making sure to get inside the cavity and in the scores. Lightly dust with remaining dry spices coating both sides of the fish.
Using a large oven safe skillet or cast iron pan, heat evenly on medium high. Add 2 tbs of neutral oil such as canola… enough to coat the entire pan.
Holding fish by the tail end, careful lower into the pan, laying it away from you to avoid splattering. using tongs or wooden spatula, press down firmly on the fish to create an even sear. After 2-3 min carefully add citrus wedges in the scores and inside the cavity. It’s okay if some fall into the pan. Turn off heat and add the soy, tamarind and water mix. Tilt the pan towards you slightly and baste the fish all over with a large spoon. Coat the entire fish in the tamarind mixture.
Transfer the whole pan to the oven and bake at 425F for 15-20 min or until fish is flaky, opaque and a little firm to the touch on the thickest part of the fish.
When it is cooked, carefully transfer the fish to a large serving platter. Garnish with the warmed tomato relish, cilantro and more lemon if you’d like.
Serve with saffron rice and grilled/sautéed vegetables of your choice!