For me, the best part of a fish is its skin. Much like the treasured outside of a roast chicken, the skin is crisp, salty, and deeply flavorful—that is, when it's cooked properly. I never understand the virtue of a fillet of fish without the skin and always try to buy a whole fish with it still on whenever possible. Not only is it cheaper, but you get all kinds of textures and anything cooked whole and on the bone with cartilage and connective tissue will be moister and more delicious.
I turned to Mario Batali for this recipe from his book Molto Mario. He calls for a whole large snapper to feed four, which is the recipe I'm repeating here, but I cooked mine with a small branino for two. Either way, the sauce is marvelous: black olives, capers, white, and lemon zest are spooned into the skillet after the fish gets a thorough searing over high heat. In the oven, it practically melts with the pan juices. Parsley, flaky salt, and a drizzle of olive oil on top and it's ready.
- 1 3-4 pound whole fish, such as snapper, scored with a sharp knife three times on each side
- flour for dredging
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 cup black olives (preferably Gaeta), pitted and coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons capers, preferably salt-packed and rinsed if so
- 5 lemons, 3 of them zested and segmented
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- flaky sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degreed Fahrenheit. Dredge fish in flour on both sides and shake off excess. Heat olive oil in a heavy, oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the fish over medium-high heat until just smoking. Lay fish carefully in the pan and cook without touching until golden brown.
Turn fish over carefully and add olives, capers, lemon zest and segments, juice from remaining lemons, and wine.
Transfer skillet to oven. Roast fish until fish is just cooked through, 10-15 minutes depending on thickness. Remove from oven and allow to rest at least 5 minutes.
Serve whole fish tableside or fillet onto plates. Top with parsley, flaky salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.