Gulf finfish cannot be beaten, and this recipe for Baked Yellowtail Snapper is a tasty example. I am blessed to live within a short drive of the Gulf of Mexico and the waters that produce amazing varieties of seafood. Drum, trout, grouper, tuna, flounder, pompano, and my favorite snapper, all show up on the Acadiana Table.
Recently, I ran across yellowtail snapper. Of course, red snapper is the prevalent species showing up frequently on restaurant menus, but yellowtail always catches my eye when I see it iced down and displayed in the markets. The colors are striking: what starts out as a silver/yellow combination when caught, changes once it’s out of the water for any length of time. Hues of reddish pink mingle with greenish yellow in a rainbow of markings. The flesh is pure white with a sweet, flaky taste and texture. It is sublime.
Yellowtail snapper does not grow as large as its bigger cousin red snapper, and mine are 2-pounders just over the legal limit which is the average you’ll see on dinner plates. In fact, the world record is only 10.2 pounds caught at the Eugene Island oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana in 2001. Their small size makes them the perfect candidate for baking whole on the bone, and my recipe for Baked Yellowtail Snapper combines taste with simplicity.
When I saw fresh French sorrel at the farmer’s market, I just knew it was the perfect herb to accompany this delicate fish. Sorrel is a bitter herb when eaten raw but takes on a sharp lemony zing when cooked down, and to combine these greens with fresh citrus just makes sense.
There is a Mediterranean sensibility about this Baked Yellowtail Snapper that sparked another idea: Combine it with olives and other tapenade-like ingredients to bring a depth of briny flavor to the fish. Keeping it simple, I pulled a jar of olive salad mix—a key ingredient for any authentic New Orleans muffuletta—from my pantry—a trick I’ve used in other recipes. This Sicilian invention is a workhorse ingredient in my kitchen, and I find a variety of ways to use it in slow braises and quick appetizers alike.
I urge you to explore new dishes with exotic ingredients like yellowtail snapper and combine them with familiar ingredients you already have on hand. Sometimes they produce tasty results.
- 4 whole (2-pound) yellowtail snapper, cleaned
- 1 bunch fresh French sorrel or fresh spinach, stems removed
- 4 stalks green onion
- 4 lemons, sliced thin and seeded
- 1 orange, sliced thin and seeded
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into thin pats
- Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 (16-ounce) jars olive salad mix
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Rinse the fish and inspect to make sure the insides are cleaned thoroughly. Remove any scales.
- Stuff the inside cavity with fresh herbs and green onion along with slices of lemon and orange. Place a pat of butter inside and along the top side of the fish. Place lemon slices on the top and sprinkle lightly with Cajun seasoning.
- On a cast-iron skillet or baking tray, add the olive salad mix and spread out evenly. Add the fish on top of the olive salad and bake uncovered for 40 minutes, or until the fish is done and flakes easily.
- Serve each whole fish on a platter along with the olive salad. Or optionally, carefully remove the top portion of flaky fish from the bone, and remove the center skeletal bone for convenience.
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