Passover can be a holiday of enormous angst when so much gravitas has been lavished upon gathering recipes, scouring pots, dragging chairs upstairs and, for many, extensive cleaning. Think operation zero chametz, a full-out search-and-destroy mission for anything containing the five forbidden grains. Must we pile on any more tasks?
A busy cook might be well-served to meditate for a moment on the barbecue.
With Passover's arrival this year (it begins sundown April 8), spring's warm temperatures invite us to fire up the grill. Expect someone to bring up a fifth question at the Seder: Is it kosher? Yes!
This year, indulge your guests with a whole grilled fish to sub for that oft-maligned gefilte fish and its innate deficiencies. Or offer both for the appetizer at the Seder; or grilled fish for the main course or for any of the following nights.
Thinking outside the oven makes a lot of sense, says kosher chef Laura Frankel, who will be grilling a fish for the main dish on the seventh night.
"Grilling on a cedar plank takes the stress out of the task. You won't be scraping fish off the grill," she explains. While your oven is overstuffed keeping other courses warm, "(the fish) is taking care of itself out on the grill." The strongest case for grilling fish? Frankel is convinced of its "smoky, wonderful, delicious flavor."
There is no written law commanding Jews to eat gefilte fish on the holiday. It's a custom rooted in the Ashkenazic regions of Eastern Europe, and for many Diaspora Jews, the gefilte fish (meaning stuffed) recalls the rich culture of the shtetls, or small towns.
Jewish law only requires that the fish has fins and scales. Frankel suggests several cold ocean fish: red snapper, branzino, black bass, striped bass or a small grouper. These will have a hardier flavor than a freshwater fish like trout.
Grilling offers many advantages: no odors from poaching ground fish, no pulling fish torpedoes out of a jar with a gelatinous goo derived from simmering fish bones and no need to mask its blandness with zesty, creamy horseradish.
Simply slide the grilled fish onto a platter garnished with spring herbs and a dollop of gremolata, which adds a pleasantly sharp citrusy kick. Then place it center stage on your table. When it's time to eat, remove it to the kitchen for deboning and slicing into easy-to-eat portions.
Be prepared: Afishionados will surely ask for seconds.
WHOLE GRILLED FISH
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 20-30 minutes
Serves: 4 as an entree or 8 as a first course
This recipe is adapted from kosher chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Laura Frankel. Grilling a whole fish frees up crowded oven space and is entirely kosher, even for highly observant Jews who can blowtorch their grill grates to make it ritually fit for use. The tang of gremolata gives a pleasantly sharp kick to the fish, which has absorbed a smoky flavor from the grill.
2 lemons, thinly sliced
1 stalk fresh lemon grass, bottom 5 inches smashed and sliced into small pieces
4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3 cloves garlic, grated
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and 2 teaspoons of juice from 1 small orange
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds or almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 whole snapper, black bass, branzino (or favorite cold water catch), 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, cleaned, scaled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. For the paste, pulse the lemon slices, lemon grass, garlic, shallots, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor until a thick paste forms.
2. For the gremolata, whisk the garlic, lemon juice and zest, orange juice and zest, parsley, nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste until a paste is formed. (Store leftover gremolata, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)
3. For the fish, soak a cedar plank in water for at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, rinse fish and pat dry. Heat grill to medium-high, 350 to 375 degrees.
4. Score both sides of the outside of the fish in half-inch deep cuts, about 1 1/2 inches apart. This will help the fish cook faster. Rub the paste on the outside and inside of the fish, coating it as well as possible.
5. Rub the plank with olive oil; gently place the fish on the plank. Slide the plank onto the heated grill; close the top.
6. Roast until the fish feels firm when gently pressed, or reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees, 20-30 minutes. Remove from grill; allow fish to rest 5 minutes. Slide onto a serving platter; top with the gremolata, and pass the remainder at the table.
Oven roasting: Cook on the cedar plank on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven (middle rack), 25 to 30 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving (for 4 servings): 401 calories, 27 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 29 g protein, 590 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
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