Grilled Citrus and Herb-Stuffed Red Snapper
Situated just east of Bali in the archipelago of Indonesia lies the rustic, tropical paradise of Lombok; an island of rolling, lush farmland, dense rainforests and breathtaking waterfalls, imposing volcanic mountainscapes, and endless white sand beaches surrounded by aquamarine waters as far as the eye can see. A vision so beautiful it’s difficult to distinguish where the Heavens end and Earth begins.
It’s here in the tiny village of Mataram on the western shores of Lombok that indigenous fishermen depart at sunrise onto the high seas seeking one of the most fertile fishing grounds on the globe for red snapper. For hundreds of years this fish has a been a primary source of sustenance for locals, from Sumatra and Java in the west to Papua New Guinea in the east.
This past fall I was fortunate to not only join these men on their deep sea hunt, but to work alongside them in preparing our harvest over livefire for an intimate group of family and new friends.
Red snapper can grow up to 35-40 pounds, but are often sold in fishing markets between 2-4 pounds. The fish has a brilliant shimmering red skin, it’s white-pinkish meat is mild to taste, slightly nutty and sweet in flavor, while it’s texture is lean and firm. This is the perfect fish for both frying, roasting, and in particular, grilling! That said, the key to preparing phenomenal snapper is both in its preparation over livefire and the quality of the fish itself. If you’re purchasing red snapper from your local market, as opposed to harvesting it directly from the Indian Ocean, please follow these recommendations for buying the very best whole fish:
- The eye should not be sunken, still shiny and pupils not cloudy.
- Exterior of the fish and its scales should glisten in the light.
- Fresh fish should be springy to the touch upon the side filets.
- Gills will be bright pinkish-red.
- Snapper should smell of the ocean. If it smells “fishy”… it probably is.
See the recipe below for my favorite Indonesian-inspired grilled whole fish recipe loaded with fresh citrus, a garden of fresh herbs and prepared to perfection over a bed of smoldering lump charcoal, hardwoods and live fire.
- 4 whole red snappers gutted, scaled and cleaned
- Olive oil
- 6-8 cloves garlic finely minced
- Kosher salt and fresh ground peppercorn to taste
- 4 tangerines thinly sliced
- 2 blood oranges thinly sliced
- 2 lemons thinly sliced
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 2 limes thinly sliced, plus additional for garnish
- Parsley and green onion chopped, to garnish
- Pomegranate arils garnish
Preheat grill to medium-high using the Two-Zone Cooking Method and place a smoker packet in the back corner of the direct heat grilling zone (see notes section below) 15 minutes prior to grilling.
Meanwhile, prepare the snapper by scoring the fish's skin with a sharp knife along both sides of the filet. Drizzle with olive oil and liberally seasoning the fish inside and out with salt, pepper and minced garlic. Then stuff the fish with citrus fruits, sliced shallots, and fresh herbs.
Gently place the stuffed whole fish atop the direct heat grilling zone and sear with the grill lid open until char marks are well-defined, 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer the fish to the cooler, indirect heat zone. Close the grill lid and smoke the fish for an additional 10-15 minutes, removing the fish when it achieves an internal temperature of 135F and the meat is opaque in color.
Rest the fish for 5 minutes prior to plating. Garnish, splash with a few dashes of Sriracha, and serve alongside 2 handfuls of crisp, ice cold, lager beers.
Two-Zone Cooking Method: To create one hotter, direct heat zone and one cooler indirect heat zone, only heat one side of the grill -
Gas: For a 2-burner grill, turn the right side of the grill to high & leave the left side off. If using a 3-burner grill, turn the far right side of the grill to high, the middle to medium-low and leave the left side off. Finally, when working with a 4-burner grill, turn the far right side of grill to high, middle right to medium, middle left to low, & leave the far-left burner off.
Charcoal: Ignite the charcoal in a chimney starter. When coals are glowing red, dump coals onto the grill floor. Rake coals, pushing some to one side of the grill and slanting the rest to the opposite side. This'll create one high-piled hot zone and one cooler zone. For every hour of cooking, add a half-stack of coals.
Hardwood Smoker Packs: Tear off an 8 inch sheet of tin foil. Pour a handful of your favorite hardwood chips onto the foil in a mound. Wrap the foil around the chips to create a packet-of-sorts. With a knife or fork, perforate the top of the packet allowing smoke to billow from the package when the chips are heated.
Well. Not every fishing adventure yields a prize catch. This baby snapper was safely returned to the Indian Ocean where he’ll feed, grow and await my return. Until next time.