Whole Smoke-Roasted Striped Bass and Rocket Pesto

Chris Schlesinger, chef-owner of East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is largely responsible for getting us into barbecue. His[ Fourth of July parties in Westport, Massachusetts, may be right up there with his reputation as a chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. Every year on the holiday, friends of Chef Schlesinger bring 30- to 50-pound (13.7- to 22.8-kg) whole bass that they've just caught, and he usually asks us to cook them. There is nothing better than smoky whole fish just off the fire. Like bone-in meat, fish retains its moisture best when you cook it whole. We came up with this recipe the first year we were asked to cook one, and it was so good, it's been a keeper. We grilled sweet corn with it, which is a perfect complement to the rich, smoky fish. Because we're dealing with significant bulk, and fish sizes are so variable, it's hard to provide a definitive cook time. Our friend Wade Wiestling, vice president of culinary development at the Oceanaire Seafood Room, gave us a great guideline: cook 5 minutes per inch (2.5 cm) at the fish's largest circumference, at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). This recipe serves a lot of people, so plan on a big party.]

Yield:
20 to 30 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 whole striped bass or salmon, around 20 to 30 pounds (9 to 13.7 kg), scaled
  • 2 cups (475 ml) olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 5 cups (300 g) fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus 1 whole bunch fresh Italian parsley
  • 8 sprigs rosemary, needles removed and stems discarded
  • 1 cup (235 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup (75 g) kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (12 g) ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (80 g) loosely packed basil leaves
  • 10 tarragon sprigs
  • 12 thyme sprigs
  • Rocket Pesto (recipe follows)
  • Cheesy Grilled Corn (recipe follows)
  • Rocket Pesto:
  • 1 1/2 cups (220 g) pistachios, shells removed, toasted
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 pound (455 g) arugula (also known as rocket)
  • 2 cups (475 ml) olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • CHEESY GRILLED CORN:
  • For Aioli:
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups (475 ml) vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • For Corn:
  • 20 ears corn, shucked, snapped in half, and blanched for 30 seconds
  • 4 cups (480 g) crumbled queso fresco (if you can't find queso fresco, feta works as well)
  • 1/2 cup (64 g) chili powder
  • 10 limes, cut into 6 wedges each
Directions

Make sure the fish has had all its scales removed, and that the inside cavity is clean. If there are any scales left, remove them using the back of a knife to scrape the skin from tail to head. Pat the skin dry with a towel.

Prepare smoker and bring heat to 400degreesF (200degreesC). We recommend oak or hickory as the smoke wood.

In a blender, puree the olive oil, garlic, 5 cups (300 g) parsley leaves, rosemary, lemon juice, salt, and pepper until smooth. Coat the fish with the herb mixture inside and out. Stuff the cavity with the basil, tarragon, thyme, and remaining 1 bunch parsley.

Transfer fish to a large foil-lined baking sheet, and smoke for 5 minutes for every inch (2.5 cm) the fish measures at its largest circumference, or until the fish's internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F (60 degrees C).

To serve, gently transfer roasted fish to a large platter or cutting board and drizzle with Rocket Pesto. Serve with Cheesy Grilled Corn.

For the pesto:

Pesto is traditionally made with basil, garlic, parmesan or pecorino cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil, but we thought we'd shake things up a bit by replacing the basil with arugula and substituting pistachios for pine nuts.

In a food processor, puree the pistachios, garlic, and cheese. Add arugula and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: 4 cups (946 ml)

For Corn:

Grilled corn with cotija cheese (a hard, dry cheese named for the town in Mexico from whence it originates), mayonnaise, and a dusting of chili powder is popular street food in Mexico. One bite and it's easy to see why. Here's our version.

To make the aioli:

In the bowl of a food processor, puree the egg yolks, garlic, and lemon juice. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in oil to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

To make the corn:

Prepare grill. When fire is medium-hot (you should not be able to hold your hand over the coals for more than 10 seconds), grill corn for about 5 minutes, rolling it to toast all sides and keep it from burning (C). Remove from grill and slather with aioli, then sprinkle with queso fresco and chili powder. Serve with lime wedges.

Yield: 20 servings


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