This baked whole snapper is inspired by traditional Creole stew flavors, says former Chopped contestant Shorne Benjamin, who featured the dish on the Christmas menu at his New York City–based catering company. “It’s a great way to add something meat-free to your holiday plate,” he says.
Make the marinade: Combine the thyme leaves, garlic, pimientos, scallions and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Place the snapper in a dish and pour the marinade all over. Rub the snapper with the marinade, inside and out. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Make the brown stew: Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Before the oil begins to smoke, add the onion, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, pimientos, tomatoes and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until everything is soft. Add the molasses and cook for about 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated. Add the fish stock and bring to a simmer.
Wrap the chile pepper, scallion, parsley, bay leaves, thyme and allspice in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine. Add the spice bag to the stew and simmer 20 minutes. Add the okra, if using, in the last 6 minutes of cooking. Season the stew with salt and pepper and discard the spice bag. Set the stew aside.
Cook the fish: Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Let the snapper come to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Stuff the belly of the snapper with the crabmeat. Tie the snapper with twine so that the crabmeat doesn’t fall out (4 pieces of twine around the belly should do). Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the snapper skin dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Add the snapper to the hot pan and sear 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the snapper is cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the fish to a platter or leave it in the pan. To serve, pour the brown stew over the fish or serve it on the side and pour over each serving. Finish with hot sauce for extra spice.
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Photograph by Mike Garten
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