Whole red snapper with mint, basil and feta

Iowa City is about as far from an ocean as I’ve ever lived, so it was with great glee that I learned from my friend Sarah last year about “The Shrimp Guy.” The crew from Fabian’s Seafood drops into town about every four weeks from April to November, delivering shrimp, crabmeat, crawfish, and other seafood goodies straight off the plane from Galveston, Texas.

The last time they came through, I picked up some shrimp, some crabmeat, and a whole red snapper. Steve and I had gotten a whole fish and grilled it after Fabian’s April visit, and it was delicious.

But when I got it home, I realized one very important thing: Steve was the one with the fishing background. I didn’t know the first thing about working with a whole fish, and now that I’m cooking for one, I was going to have to figure it out.

I did what any resourceful girl would do: threw the whole thing in the freezer and ignored it for a few weeks.

“I don’t know how to scale it,” I told The Mint Killer one night. I knew they came pre-gutted, but had no idea how to even begin dealing with the scale issue.

“Bring it over,” she said. “I’ll teach you.”

We decided The Mint Killer’s Fourth of July barbeque was as good a time as any to put the fish to good use. I thawed out the red snapper, then called The Mint Killer that afternoon to discuss preparation.

“Should I bring anything for it?” I asked.

She rattled off a list of delicious things: pine nuts, basil, cheese.

“Cheese?” I asked. I had never heard of pairing cheese with fish. In fact, I’d heard quite the opposite: No cheese and fish together. EVER.

“Just some feta, if you’ve got it.”

Snapper slicedI cut some basil from the garden and arrived at her house, bounty in hand. We took the fish over to the sink, and she scaled one side by using a fairly sharp knife and scraping from the tail toward the head. The scales popped off, flying around the sink like sequins at a prom. Then she handed it to me to take care of the other side. In a few minutes, we had the fish ready to prep, its reddish color stripped from its sides, the flesh laid bare.

Snapper stuffedNext, The Mint Killer sliced the sides of the flesh and we pressed ginger, garlic, mint and basil into the slits and rubbed more mint and basil over the skin. We squeezed half a lime over each side and stuffed the fish with the pine nuts, more ginger and garlic, more mint and basil, and the spent lime halves. A quick securing job with some bamboo skewers, and we put the fish in the fridge to soak in those flavors until it was time to grill it up.

The result? A flavorful, scale-free fish that wowed the guests at the barbeque. And the cheese? It totally worked, no matter what all the anti-cheese-and-fish folks will tell you.

Snapper grilledWhole Red Snapper with Mint, Basil and Feta
(Servings depend on the size of the fish and the number of side dishes available)

1 whole red snapper, gutted and scaled
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp. sliced fresh ginger
A handful of fresh basil leaves
A handful of fresh mint leaves
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
A handful of pine nuts
One lime

  1. Cut diagonal slits in each side of the fish. Stuff the slits on one side with a quarter of the garlic, ginger, basil and mint. Rub any basil and mint that is spilling out of the slits over the skin on that side of the fish. Squeeze half the lime over that side, and rub the juice into the skin, as well.
  2. Repeat on the other side of the fish. Stuff both spent lime halves into the body cavity of the fish.
  3. Add the pine nuts, feta and the remaining basil, mint, garlic and ginger to the cavity stuffing. Secure the body cavity closed with bamboo skewers (Just break them off if they’re too long and stick out too much, but be sure they’re long enough to hold the fish together, including when you flip it).
  4. Let the fish rest on a plate in the refrigerator for up to four hours.
  5. Grill the fish on foil over medium-high heat for approximately 10 minutes per side (the timing will depend on the thickness and size of the fish – you want the meat to flake with a fork when it’s done). Serve immediately.

This is my post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Chris of Mele Cotte. Please stop by later this weekend for the full round-up!

23 Responses to “Whole red snapper with mint, basil and feta”

  1. 1 jolynna July 7, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Yummm..the fish looks delicious.

    I didn’t know that fish and cheese were a good combination either.

    But, it does look good.

  2. 2 inadvertentgardener July 7, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    It was surprisingly delicious, Jolynna. There were a couple of professional chefs who were at the bbq as well, and they also gave it a thumbs up, although they had never heard of the fish-cheese combo, either. I’d say The Mint Killer is pretty inspired!

  3. 3 growthumbs July 7, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    That sounds like it would be easy to make. I have never had snapper so might have to try it. I bet the feta cheese went well with it.

  4. 4 inadvertentgardener July 7, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    I definitely recommend it, growthumbs. Let me know if you give it a whirl!

  5. 5 Katiez July 8, 2007 at 3:59 am

    I wouldn’t have put the cheese with the fish either. Must be more daring!
    I like stuffing fish with lemon thyme and lemons, also… maybe with the sliced ginger…
    I am also clueless as to what to do with a whole fish. Fortunately the folks at the fish counter know and will take care of it all for me. They always want to give me the heads and skeletons (when I have them boned), though…. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I have THEM do it, so I don’t have do deal with the fish parts!

  6. 6 Robin (bumblebee) July 8, 2007 at 5:26 am

    This sounds great! I ish the mint killer live near me!

    Fish on the grill is a bit hit around here too. This week we tried trout with a lemon buttter sauce. Since my son got the Weber grilling book, he is actually planning meals!


  7. 7 inadvertentgardener July 8, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Katiez, that’s how I’ve always been with whole fish — if the monger won’t help, I just live without it. But I decided it’s time to actually step up and do it myself. The payoff is definitely worth it!

    Robin, how excellent that your son’s getting into the cooking action! And yes, I am very lucky to live so near The Mint Killer. :-)

  8. 8 Lydia July 8, 2007 at 8:09 am

    Fish and cheese? Well, who knew? I think we have all been a bit brainwashed on that by the strong prohibition against it in the Italian cuisine. This fish looks amazing, and you get tons of credit for bravery for taking it on by yourself!

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener July 8, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Lydia, well, I only get partial credit — I definitely shared the bravery with The Mint Killer, who is an excellent instructor. But I’m definitely going to try this again at home the next time the Fabian’s folks are in town…

  10. 10 steven July 8, 2007 at 9:46 am

    OMG cheese and fish! I’m sending Mario Batali for an intervention!

    Seriously though, it sounds good. I’ve had the mint/basil/feta/lemon combination over grilled shrimp and it was good so I can see it with snapper.

  11. 11 Chris July 8, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Wow – you’re my inspiration! No only have I never eaten snapper, but never scaled a fish, deveined shrimp, shucks clams…nothin! I need to get on the ball!

    Thanks for participating in WHB!

  12. 12 inadvertentgardener July 8, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Steven, I know — Mario would be molto unhappy with me. He’ll get over it…and now I am going to have to try that with shrimp, for sure!

    Chris, it’s worth getting on the ball for all that good eatin’.

  13. 13 Kalyn July 8, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    I think feta is in a whole category by itself when it comes to “what goes with.” I say, everything tastes good with feta, and I am 100% serious about this.

    BTW, Mario did some serious dissing of food blogs lately, so who cares what he thinks anyway.

    I’ve never cleaned a fish either! I’m quite seafood deprived here in Utah.

  14. 14 the mint killer July 8, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    ode to whole fish lovers everywhere! hope you are giving it a whole grill yourself….

    and i can’t take any of the credit either. this is a case where “i blame my mother for….” seems to work out well. she used to make a killer flounder stuffed with cheese. in fact, it never ever never occured to me that cheese and fish DON’T go together….

    and katiez, don’t toss the bones, head or other bits. they be the makings of stock! just pretend they are just chicken bones. cover them with water, add some other herbs if you want (like ginger, garlic, green onions) and boil ’em down (some people even recommend searing the bones and heads first to give it all a more grilled flavor, but that’s optional). then strain the whole thing out and toss it in the freezer for when you get inspired next.

    or you can give the cheeks and eyes to my mother and/or daughter to eat. they fight over them at the table and say the best meat of any fish is hidden in the cheeks….

  15. 15 Scott July 8, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Nice! My better half has this thing about anatomically correct food, but I’m a sucker for whole fish.

  16. 16 steven July 8, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Now Kalyn, Mario Batali is one of our National Treasures. His criticism of Food Bloggers was spot on, considering it was in the context of bloggers who repeated half truths about his legal battles with his landlord at Del Posto.

  17. 17 SugarCreekFarm July 8, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Where in the heck do you get pine nuts? Nobody around here has ever heard of them.

  18. 18 bright July 9, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    context schmontext! i’m curious about this “truly responsible journalism.” can someone tell me which ones the responsible ones are? are they on fox or cnn?

    do i really want to start somethin’? no… i guess ours is not to know the mind of mario. minor food deities can be like that. the results of googling “fish and cheese” and batali:

    one more recipe

    ps. tuna melts

  19. 19 inadvertentgardener July 9, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Kalyn, I still haven’t actually cleaned a fish…but at least now I can scale them. And I agree with you about feta — it’s pretty fabulous.

    Mint Killer, your mother is inspired, no matter what Mario says. :-)

    Scott, how is a whole fish not anatomically correct? Or does she not like to actually recognize what she’s eating? (And…I must say…when it comes to meat, I kind of feel that way myself…)

    Steven, I’ve got to go check out that post…

    Kelli, I get them at the local co-op. How far from one are you guys? Next time you’re in I.C., let me know and we’ll go get you a big ol’ bag — you can freeze them beautifully!

  20. 20 inadvertentgardener July 9, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Bright, the links crack me up. And DUH. Tuna melts. DUH!

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