Who said slashers have to be scary? Before roasting it in the oven, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes slits up the sides of a whole fish and fills them with an aromatic spice paste and bay leaves. In this dish, one of the many simple-yet-delightful recipes in the British author's latest cookbook, River Cottage Every Day, the slashes ensure the entire fish is perfumed, flavorful and perfectly cooked. It's one of the easiest, show-stopping dishes you can add to your weeknight repertoire. It's not scary at all: In fact, it's kind of brilliant.
Roasted Slashed Fish with Aromatic Paste
Recipe adapted from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed)
Yield: 2 Servings
Cook Time: 45 minutes
One ¾-to 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated (about 1½ tablespoon)
½ to 1 small, hot red chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 small shallot, grated (about 2 tablespoons)
1 star anise pod, pounded with a mortar and pestle
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
One 2-pound whole fish, such as striped bass or branzino, gutted and scaled
8 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Make the paste: In a small bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, chile, shallot and star anise. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the soy sauce to form a thick paste.
2. Place the fish on an oiled baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 slashes (about 3/8- to ¾-inch deep and 1½- to 2-inches long) in the thickest part of the fish. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side. Using your fingers, rub the paste into the slashes, smearing the rest of the cavity and the top of the fish.
3. Tuck the bay leaves into the slashes and cavity. Drizzle a little oil over the fish and place in the oven. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through; the flesh should be opaque and just coming away from the backbone.
4. Bring the fish to the table in its roasting dish and ease large chunks of the flesh away from the bones with a knife and fork. Turn the fish over and remove the remaining flesh, then spoon any aromatic pan juices on each portion. Serve immediately.