One Fish, Two Fish: How to Make Whole Fish

What dish is so delish? It’s a fish dish! So, if you have one wish, miss, wish for a fish dish as delish as this!

–My take on Dr. Suess

Dinner for Dr. Suess?

I grew up in a family that ate a lot of fish:

Ok, maybe not that much.  🙂

Before the world was heralding the health benefits of omega-3’s; before words like sustainable and over-fished were swimming around, my parents and I were dedicated fish eaters.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when steak was king, we stuck true to our roots–not just fish, but whole fish, head and tail and all:

As sushi made its debut in mainstream culture, there was John Hugh’s The Breakfast Club to document it– Molly Ringwald brings sushi for lunch in a bento box. Judd Nelson taunts her, saying she “won’t accept a guy’s tongue in her mouth but she would eat that!”  That comparison made quite an impact on me at 14! It would be 7 more years before I would have the opportunity to try sushi, and no comment on the tongue!

Breakfast Club Lunch Scene, 1985, the first time I had heard of sushi!

But I digress…I am not blogging about sushi, which I also love, but about whole fish and fully cooked at that!

My mom would make more than one kind of fish at a  meal. This is eons before moms complained about being short order cooks to accommodate every whim, and saw it as necessity: whole fish for my dad, filet for my mom and me.

My mom would go to the local fish store, a magical place. It was icy and cold inside, kind of like the penguin house at the zoo (ok, not exactly). Truthfully, I am surprised my neighborhood even had a fish store considering we had AWESOME take-out–I mean who the heck was even eating fish in the Bronx in 1980 when the pizza from the local pizzeria was so damn good!

I will save pizza for another blog…

She would come home with bundles of small butcher paper packages, and our dinner would unfold.

My father would get the porgies,  with their light flaky meat, the eye white and bland looking, staring at you throughout the meal. He would put a few steaming forkfuls onto my plate. To fully enjoy my bites I would have to tune out his shouts of “Aura, be careful! The bones, don’t choke on the bones!” (I didn’t.)

My mom would make flounder seasoned with nothing but a dab of butter for me (probably Parkay margarine circa 1980 at my house). Filets, being boneless would calm my dad’s hysterics.

Now as a grown up I feel I must confess that when I order fish in restaurants I will opt for the the whole fish 9 times out of 10 if that is a choice, which it isn’t often enough in St. Louis.

One week-and- half- long trip home to New York to visit my in-laws in Brooklyn could yield in at least ten dinners out at amazing restaurants, two of which might be in Sheepshead Bay at Liman and Yiasou, which would mean, yep, you guessed it,two opportunities for whole-fish dinners!

I have become adept at navigating the fish comb skeleton, the tiny jaw frowning, under-bite and all, and delving into the delicious and tender cheek–a morsel so yummy I can never decide to eat it first or save it for last.

Since I haven’t been back home to New York lately, I need to be able to make it myself.

And as often as I can get whole fish, which isn’t often enough, it doesn’t really matter what kind– once drizzled with good olive oil, bedazzled with glimmering flakes of course  kosher salt, dotted with freshly ground pepper, stuffed with slices of lemon and slivers of garlic, sprinkled with handfuls of greens, and slipped into a hot oven– cooked like this–it is perfection!

One fish:

Two fish:

Roasted until the flavors of garlic and lemon permeate the fish, the bones infusing their meaty goodness into the delicate white flesh.

Aaaahhh…nice and opaque:

When dinner is served, it is man against fish, just the two of us, and concentration is necessary.

Moving aside the skin, eating the whole top side, peeling the whole skeleton, up and away in one slow but mighty swoop and depositing it in the trash. This reminds me of childhood cartoons, like Tom and Jerry where a roll in the trash wasn’t complete without fish bones and banana peels.

Now my garbage is complete:

And of course throughout dinner, my own words ring out, although softer and sweeter than my dad’s booming voice: “The bones! Be careful not to choke on the bones!” And my children, fascinated, eat dinner in silence, wide eyed and slightly gaping in awe like the fish on their plates.

Dinner is served:

Roasted Whole Fish

  • 2 whole fish, any kind (I used red snapper above, but bass would be m y first choice)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  •  freshly ground pepper
  • 2 sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 sliced lemon
  • a handful of arugula or  parsley leaves, or any herbs you like
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Wash and dry fish, inside and out, patting with paper towels.
  2. Generously brush with the olive oil, inside and out.
  3. Seriously sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, inside and out–it can take it–it (possibly) came from the sea! ;).
  4. Open up the fish an place a  layer of lemons, slightly overlapping, into the cavity.
  5.  And then add slices of fresh garlic tossed here and  there (the more the merrier).
  6. And a handful or so of arugula or parsley leaves strewn about on top of the lemon and garlic inside the cavity.
  7. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes and serve hot. But first, look it in the eye, if you dare.

Roasted Vegetable Torte, Not as Easy as Pie

Roasted Vegetable Torte, Not as Easy as Pie

(But let’s face it–pie isn’t so easy anyway!)

The Roasted Vegetable Torte. There it was. Every time I opened the cookbook the picture would be there, waiting for me. I would check it often, to see if it still had that same effect on me: longing.


It was too beautiful for words, too pretty to make. How would I ever cut into it? And which friends liked roasted veggies enough for it to be worth the effort?

But I could wait no longer.

I bought the most beautiful veggies I could find. Cheerful red and yellow peppers, a glossy red onion, a shiny black eggplant. I sliced them with care and brushed them generously with extra virgin olive oil, generous pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I lay them all out on large baking sheets to wait their turn in the oven to roast. The veggies turned dark and soft in the oven.

I prepared a spring form pan and layered the veggies with cheese. I placed a plate on top to weigh it down and a plate on the bottom to catch the juices.

And then I waited another day.

When dinnertime came, I opened the fridge to find the veggie tart waiting patiently for me in the fridge. I can’t say I displayed the same virtuous trait, but now, the time had come!

Time to un-mold…top view:


I put it on a cake stand, something worthy of its beauty, and left it on the counter to come to room temperature.


When my dinner guests arrived I let it sit on the counter in the center of all of the hubbub.

Surrounded by the sounds of clinking glasses and laughter, I let it bask in admiration and let it get the ooohs and aaahs it deserved.

I’m ready for my close up:


I carried it to the dinner table, gingerly, and placed it down amid other loved dishes, the spice rubbed roasted salmon, the tomato-feta salad, the warm homemade bread.

It was hard to make the first cut. But well worth the wait.

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Vegetable Torte

  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices (sometimes I skip zukes and double up on the other veggies I like more)
  • 1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus another few tablespoons for brushing veggies
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red bell peppers, halved, cored, seeded
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, halved, cored, seeded
  • 1 eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices ( 1 1/2 pounds or more)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (but I like to switch this our for soft herbed-goat cheese)

1. Preheat over to 400 F.
2. In a large saute pan, place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and cook the zucchini, onions, garlic for 10 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Brush the bell peppers and eggplant with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes, until soft, but not browned.
3. In a 8 inch round cake pan (I used spring form but either way it works), place each vegetable in a single overlapping layer, sprinkling cheese, salt and pepper to taste, between each layer of veggies. Begin with half of the eggplant, then layer half of the zucchini and onions, then all of the red peppers, then all of the yellow peppers, then the rest of the zucchini and onions, and finally the rest of the eggplant.
4. Cover the top of the veggies with a round of wax paper. Place a plate on top so that it is sitting right on top of the veggies, and weigh it down with a heavy jar. Place the whole thing on top of a larger plate to catch the juices in case it leaks (it will), and place it in the fridge until it is well chilled (might as well make it the day before).
5. When ready to serve, drain the liquids, un-mold and serve at room temp. Cut it into wedges like a cake and enjoy!

Oh, and leftovers make an awesome sandwich the next day! See for yourself…Image

Can’t talk right now…gotta go!