The sentimentality of the past, nostalgia, this is where the red snapper finds me. I have vivid recollections of the Stabroek market in Georgetown, Guyana, as a child. Cities revolve around markets, little did I know at my tender age. Entirely aggressive, sometimes unbearably loud, an education in local dictions, and an olfactory assault, this great place was responsible many of my early mental food associations. Tucked at the back of the market after going through the jewelry, fashion, spice, vegetable, and hardware maze was where one would come across the most amazing fish, not a hundred feet away from the wharf along the Demerara river. Colloquially known as the land of many waters, to say such of Guyana is not an exaggeration.
Far too often today, the connection between the bounty of the waters and the final product on the plate is lost. The idea that fish does not come out of the oceans scaled, gutted and filleted might be jarring to some. I was fortunate enough to have known better. Don’t get me wrong, no child prefers to spend their Saturday morning wafting the smell of fresh fish and clinging on to their mother’s skirt as opposed to soaking up cartoons; but I believe I’m a better man today for having been forced into market bag carrying action.
We had red snapper often, and in fact still do whenever I am home. To have learned that this marvelous fish is facing threats of extinction on the back of overfishing is indeed a terrible thought. I can’t imagine my childhood without red snapper, usually in a tomato stew or baked dish that was served with buttery, herby rice. I hated fish, generally, but I loved snapper. I begin to think about it and I can still see my mother in the kitchen, unknowingly holding the bonds of family together through mealtime. Its twenty years later and those shared experiences tie us to one place at one time. This is what defines family. If I dig a little deeper, the herbal note makes my mind wander to my grandmother’s kitchen, an avid lover of fresh fish it would seem if the repeated features of her menu were any indication. My herbs come from a small garden on my balcony, hers came from her yard. I wish I had asked more questions of her. I wish I knew her better. This fish though, this fish, in a small way allows me to share a footstep she took. Nostalgia, this is where the red snapper finds me.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4):
· 4 2lb red snappers, cleaned
· 3 lemon
· 1½ orange
· Few thyme sprigs
· Few rosemary stems
· Handful parsley
· Salt and black pepper
· 1 bulb fennel
- Preheat oven to 170 °C
- Cut the fennel into large chunks, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, and place the fennel on a lightly greased baking tray
- Roast the fennel for 20 minutes or until the edges are browned then set aside
- Slice the orange and lemon into thin slices, reserving a few pieces for the final plating
- Pat dry and generously season the fish, inside and out, with salt and pepper
- Stuff the fish with a few of the lemon slices and a few of the herbs
- Secure the stuffing with some lemon and orange slices
- Tie the fish with string, securing a few lemon with a few herbs secured to each side
- Generously cover fish with olive oil
- Place the fish onto a baking tray and into the preheated oven and cook through for 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of your fish
- Assemble fish and fennel onto a serving dish with the reserved citrus slices on the side