Whole Roasted Snapper with Tamarind

For this Indonesian-inspired dish, I like a firm-textured fish such as red snapper, striped bass, or grouper. Although the fish is traditionally deep-fried, I simplify and lighten things a bit by roasting it instead. If you don't have time to marinate the fish overnight, simply bake the fish in its marinade for full effect and serve the pan juices as the sauce.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

6 oz. compressed tamarind pulp (a 3/4-inch-thick piece about 2×4 inches)
2 cups hot water
8 large cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced(about 2 Tbs.)
3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbs. chopped shallots
2 dried hot chiles (or more to taste), coarsely chopped with seeds
2 Tbs. palm sugar (available canned in Asian markets) or brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 whole snapper (about 2 lb.), boned and well cleaned, scales and gills removed
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced, or a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes, juice and seeds squeezed out
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro

Preparation:

Soak the tamarind in the hot water until soft, about 15 mm. Put the tamarind pulp in a fine sieve set over the bowl of soaking liquid and press hard to extract as much of the pulp as possible. Stir in the garlic, ginger, shallots, chiles, and sugar and set aside.

Lightly salt the fish inside and out. Make 4 diagonal cuts about 1/2-inch deep on both sides of the fish. Put the fish in a large dish, pour the marinade over it, cover, and refrigerate. Marinate overnight (or 30 min., if you're going to bake the fish in the sauce), turning the fish occasionally to ensure even marination.

Heat the oven to 375°F. If you've marinated the fish overnight, transfer it to a baking dish and reserve the marinade. Scatter the tomatoes over and around the fish and bake for about 40 min., or until the flesh feels firm and looks opaque with no signs of pink. (If you have only let the fish marinate for 30 min., put the fish, marinade, and tomatoes into the baking dish. Bake until done, about 45 mm.)

While the fish is baking, put the reserved marinade in a heavy, medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and keep warm. When the fish is cooked, drain off any juices that have collected in the baking dish and add them to the sauce. Transfer the cooked fish to a heated serving platter and coat the fish with the sauce. Decorate with the cilantro.

You may also be interested in Cooking with Tamarind