This preparation is a bit of a Caribbean take on a New Orleans favorite. It is my best attempt at duplicating a fish from a little roadside restaurant in St. Kitts called El Fredos. The colors are fun and the flavors are complex, but the techniques are easy. The only challenge is in telling when the fish is done, but for a 3 lb fish, the 25-30 minute cook time will be pretty reliable. This dish is a fairly dramatic presentation and the thick and chunky sauce is great on a cool night. It has the lightness of a purely fish and vegetable dish, but the comfort food qualities of a nice bowl of chili.
1 snapper around 3 lbs – scaled, gutted, gills removed
4 Tablespoons plus 1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons Emeril’s Essence or other creole spice blend
1 Large Onion – chopped
1 Red Bell pepper – chopped
1 Green Bell pepper – chopped
1 Cup Celery – chopped
3 Bay leaves
2 Large tomatoes – chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 Can Tomato paste
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 slightly angled cuts, top to bottom and down to the bone on each side. Coat the entire fish with the olive oil.
Cover both sides of the fish with the spice blend and set aside.
Heat the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions, bell peppers, celery and bay leaves and cook over high heat for about 8 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, thyme, allspice, and tomato paste.
Reduce heat and simmer for 20 more minutes, adding water as needed to keep the consistency similar to a thick salsa.
As soon as you add these ingredients, put the snapper in the oven. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, pour the sauce over the fish and cook in the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes.
It is done when the meat is white all the way to the bone and a fork inserted between meat and bone does not produce any pink liquid. You can serve this dish family style or, if you prefer, you can gently lift portions off of the bones with a spatula. Once the first half is picked clean, you can gently lift off the whole skeleton and get most of the bones. The bottom half is easier to clean up than the top one. Serve with a healthy scoop of the creole sauce.