Sunday was Mother’s Day in both the US & Italy, so this recipe is dedicated to my mother, who I can thank for my love of Italy & cuisine. I’m in Italy right now, but if I were in the States, this is the dish I would make for my mom because she loves fish. In fact, our favorite meal in Italy on our family trip a few years ago was whole baked fish in Positano. It was tender and flavorful, seasoned with just a little olive oil, lemon, and salt. To me, that is the epitome of Italian cooking: the ability to use just a few complimentary spices or herbs that really make the main ingredient shine.
- Sea Bream – Orata
- Baked – Al forno
- Bones (of a fish) – Lische di pesce
- Debone – Dissosare
- Whole fish – Pesci interi
- Scales – Scaglie di pesce
- A slice of lemon – Una fettina di limone
- Lemon peel – Buccia di limone
- Tail – La coda
How Skin & Debone a Whole Cooked Fish
I know, I know, this might be silly, but for those of us who have never eaten a whole fish before (ahem, pointing a finger at myself), here’s a few tips how to remove the skin and bones.
- To remove the skin: put your knife tip under the skin at the base of the tail. You should be able to run your knife gently under the skin and it will pull off effortlessly.
- Once you have eaten the meat off of one side of the fish, you’ll be able to remove the spine. Take the tip of the spine near the base of the tail, and gently pull upward. Most of the bones will come out with the spine (except for a few stubborn ones near the head).
And if you really want to be Italian…
If you don’t have a dishwasher, you might notice that the fish smell lingers on silverware even after washing it. Apparently Italians loathe that smell (well, I mean, who loves a fishy odor? NO ONE). So if you find yourself in this predicament, take a vegetable peeler and peel off a nice sized hunk of lemon peel. Then, rub the lemon peel all over any dishes or silverware that are smelling fishy. Afterwards they’ll be lemony fresh!
- 2 whole Sea Bream (Orata) one fish per person
- 3 medium potatoes
- 3/4 - 1 cup of olive oil
- red pepper flakes optional
- 3 garlic cloves
- 4 sage leaves
- 2 rosemary branches
- 1 pinch dried thyme approx. 1/4-1/2 tsp
- 2 lemon slices
- 1/2 glass white wine
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
First, prepare the herbed oil (this will be brushed on the fish before going in the oven). In a bowl, add approximately 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 chopped sage leaf, 1 chopped rosemary branch, a pinch of dried thyme, and 1 finely minced garlic clove. Let stand for 1 hour so that the garlic and herbs infuse the oil.
Rinse the fish clean, and remove any residue from the inside. Then, cut off the tail and fins at the base.
Rub the inside of the fish with salt and pepper.
Add the sage leaf.
Add the rosemary.
Add the lemon slice.
Add the whole garlic clove.
Peel the potatoes and then slice them into about 1/4 inch thick rounds with a mandolin. Put the potato slices in a bowl with a finely chopped sage leaf, half of the rosemary branch, thyme, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and a little olive oil. Mix everything together with your hands.
Cover the bottom of a sheet pan with olive oil, and then distribute the potatoes so that they are in a single layer covering the bottom of the pan. Place the fish on top of the potatoes.
Using a pastry brush, baste the fish with the herb & garlic olive oil mixture, reserving a few tablespoons of oil.
Bake the fish in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to ensure that the potatoes are not getting too dry or burned. If necessary, add some extra olive oil.
After about 30 minutes, baste the fish with the remaining olive oil. Pour half a glass of white wine over the fish. (If you have a convection oven, you can turn it on at this point).
The fish should be moist, flaky, tender & flavorful. Enjoy with a glass of white wine. Buon appetito!
- We used fresh herbs, but feel free to use dried herbs instead.