Cooking fish whole— that is on the bone with the head and tail attached— is the best way to eat fish. To my taste the meat around the bones is always sweeter and tastier. American striped bass— like its Mediterranean counterpart branzino— is a rockfish, thriving near shores. The texture of the meat of striped bass is juicy, flaky and tasty, very delicate. With a drizzle of good virgin olive oil and lemon, it is sublime in its simplicity.
- For the garlic-infused oil:
- 1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- For the fish:
- 12 small red potatoes (about 1 pound)
- 6 whole striped bass, each about 1 1/4 lb. each, eviscerated and scaled
- 6 fresh or dried bay leaves
- 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 medium-sized red onions, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch slices
- 6 small, firm vine ripened tomatoes, cored and cut in half
- 1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- To serve:
- 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley leaves
About a half hour before roasting the fish, prepare the garlic infused oil. In a small bowl blend the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to steep for 30 minutes.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the potatoes until almost completely tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes in half, and then cut a thin sliver from the round part of each potato half so the potato will sit flat, cut side up, during roasting.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Use the garlic-infused oil to grease two heavy, large (at least 22 x 18-inches) roasting pans, preferably with low sides. Brush each fish on both sides with the olive oil mixture and enclose the tails in aluminum foil. Place one bay leaf and one sprig of rosemary in the cavity of each fish. Arrange the fish in the prepared pans, leaving as much space between them, and between the sides of the pan, as possible. Arrange the potato halves, onion slices and tomato halves around the fish in both pans so as not to overlap with each other.
Season the fish and vegetables with salt and pepper and divide the wine between the pans. Bake until the fish and vegetables begin to brown, about 20 minutes, drizzling occasionally with about ½ cup of the remaining garlic-infused oil. Rotate the roasting pans in the oven if necessary to cook the fish evenly.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon of the remaining garlic infused olive oil and the thyme and set aside. (The rest of the garlic oil will be used as the base of the sauce to serve with the fish.)
Sprinkle all the vegetables with the seasoned bread crumbs and return to the oven until the fish is flaky and completely cooked along the backbone and the vegetables are golden, about 10 minutes. (If the vegetable are not golden brown at this point, the fish can be removed and the baking dish containing the vegetables can be broiled under a pre-heated broiler, about 4 inches from the heat until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the fish for the sake of browning the vegetables.)
Stir the lemon juice and parsley into the remaining garlic-infused oil and season with salt and pepper. Place one whole fish on each plate and flank with the vegetables. Spoon any sauce from the baking pan over each serving, then stir the lemon-parsley sauce well and spoon a little over each serving. Set the rest of the sauce on the table for passing as fish is being enjoyed.