Crispy, tangy and delicious: Baked Red snapper with tamarind sauce
The sheer joy of eating fish without prejudice against summer months or any imaginary effects on skin tone has been an important part of my childhood, and I hope to pass this tradition on to my children.
I especially love Red snapper and Sea bass and would like to share a tried and tested recipe, which has been much loved and in demand at my house for the last five years. Although fish-and-chips remain an old favourite (and will always save the day when my nerves are wrecked and I run out of food stocked in my freezer) but as my children grow older, their developing taste buds want more than just the generic fish-and-chips.
When you decide to try this recipe, you must first have a few things handy.
Before embarking on this adventure, I cannot over-emphasise the importance of a great oven with temperature control and evenly distributed heat. You will also need a large 24 x 18 inch stainless steel heavy-bottomed pan to prepare, marinate, bake and serve the fish; and of course, a skilled fishmonger for purchasing fresh produce who can de-bone and clean the fish to perfection.
You may even ask your fishmonger to make a slit in the back to remove the insides and backbone without butchering the flesh.
I would advise you to remove the eyes because they tend to pop in intense heat which is not a treat for the faint-hearted, trust me. Let the head remain in place but you can trim the tail and fins and remove the scales. I have used a fish weighing 2.5 kilograms for five to six people, but for ten people, you should use a whole Red snapper weighing at least 3.5 kilograms; with the calculation being 350 grams uncooked fish per person. You will not need much else on the table when you serve this dish with Jasmine rice and a couple of elaborate salads on the side.
Just like I can’t over-stress the importance of a great oven, fish bought on the same day will add that zing to your dish that frozen fish never will. A trick to check the freshness of fish is to lightly press the pinkish-white flesh with one finger. If it gently springs back, consider it ready for use; however, if your finger sinks into the flesh leaving a big dent, please walk away and look for another piece.
Once you have selected your fish and had it slit, de-boned and cleaned, you can begin preparing the marinade and stuffing. You will need the following ingredients:
Ingredients for marinade
Red snapper/Sea bass – 3.5 kilogram
Olive oil – ½ cup
Freshly crushed garlic – ½ cup
Coriander and cumin seeds (lightly roasted and ground) – 3 tbsp
Carom (ajwain) seeds (roasted and ground) – 1 level tsp (don’t use more as it has a bitter aftertaste)
Salt – 1-2 tbsp
Tamarind paste – 2-3 cups (thick pulp which is boiled and blended)
Garam masala powder – 1 heaped tbsp
Crushed green chillies – 5 to 6 pieces (adjust to taste)
Crushed red peppers – 1 tsp
Please make sure that you make enough marinade to cover the fish on both sides and inside the cavity. I always find it better to taste the marinade before applying it on the fish. It should be salty, spicy and sour; and the tamarind, garlic, green chillies as well as the roasted coriander and cumin should be prominent enough to tingle your taste buds. Keep in mind that the marinade must be sharp as cooking reduces its intensity by half.
Once you marinate the fish, you can start preparing the stuffing. For this, you will need the following ingredients:
Ingredients for stuffing
Spring onion – 2 to 3 roughly chopped
Whole green chillies – 4 to 5
Fresh coriander – 1/2 bunch
Lemon slices – 3 to 4 lemons
After you marinate the fish, the cavity in the stomach can be filled with fresh greens and left for an hour at the most. If you leave it for longer, the tamarind paste will become runny and the flesh will start losing its own sweet taste. During summer, the prepared fish should be kept in the fridge and tightly covered in foil.
Now, pre-heat the oven to 180-200 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit and pour 2.5 cups of water on one side of the pan (don’t pour water on the fish) to allow slow baking/steaming. Cover the pan with foil and do not let the water dry during baking or the fish will burn immediately and the tamarind sauce will dry up. It will take about 70 to 80 minutes to bake on the middle shelf.
You can check if the fish is cooked by inserting a sharp knife through the fat stomach without breaking the fish. If it comes out smooth and piping hot, that means the fish has cooked right through. Once the fish is done, take the pan out carefully as it will be very hot!
Serve with steamed jasmine rice, with a side-line of potato and pineapple salad in mayo-mustard dressing, and a fresh green salad with milder dressing.
Note: Buy tamarind from a reputed store because it often contains grit which can make the entire dish inedible. (Tip for Islooites – Cheema Chattha Store in F-8 never fails its good standards.)
Good luck and do let me know how you liked the recipe in the comments below.
Correction: There was an error in the oven temperature mentioned, which has been corrected. Any inconvenience is regretted.
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