Roasted Scup with Briny Herb Sauce
Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty
Any pan-sized whole round fish will work in this recipe, even the snapper or imported branzino seen on ice in every supermarket’s seafood case, but fresh local fish is delicious and far more sustainable. Scup (also known as porgy) and redfish are bony little 1-2 pound fish with tough, sharp fins and stubborn scales, so ask your fishmonger to thoroughly scale them for you, which can be a very messy job at home. Using kitchen shears, carefully trim away any remaining spiny fins, if needed.
This recipe can be translated to the grill in summer with delicious results; just be sure to light a hot fire on one side of the grill and oil your grates exceedingly well. Once the fish is placed over indirect heat on the very hot grates, don’t move it! Leave it to sear for at least 3-4 minutes before attempting to turn it, and when you do, slide a fish spatula under and roll it carefully over its backbone so as not to spill the aromatics out of the belly. Continue to cook until the inside is hot all the way through, at least 10-12 minutes, but possibly up to 20 minutes total for a 1-2 pound fish; check with the tip of a knife to see if the flesh is cooked through and opaque, then remove from the grill and let it rest 2-3 minutes before serving.
The parsley-heavy sauce, akin to an Italian salsa verde, is full of every green herb in my garden, a toast to springtime and easily one of the most versatile sauces in my repertoire.
I serve it on fat grilled asparagus, tossed through a tangle of steaming green beans and in a salad of boiled new potatoes with crisp sugar snap peas. But it’s especially nice on grilled scup, bluefish and mackerel, where the briny, vinegary sharpness cuts through the oil of the fish and pickles it ever so slightly. If you don’t have all the herbs listed below on hand, just substitute with what you do have and be sure to use mostly parsley. Don’t throw away the stems and stalks as you prep the herb leaves; you’ll need them to perfume the fish as it roasts.
ROASTED SCUP WITH BRINY HERB SAUCE
Serves 4 (can easily be doubled or expanded for a larger fish)
2 1½-pound scup, gutted and scaled, sharp fins trimmed away
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups packed flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves
½ cup packed mint leaves
1 cup packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
½ cup packed fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
½ cup minced chives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2-3 small cornichons (sour gherkins) or other pickles
1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 thin lemon slices (3 per fish)
4 fresh bay leaves (2 per fish)
1 shallot, thinly sliced, divided
4 cloves garlic, crushed but left whole (2 per fish)
stems and stalks from the prepared herbs, above
1 lemon, half for squeezing and the rest cut in wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to 450°.
Using a very sharp knife, make 3-4 slashes through the skin of the fish on both sides. Season aggressively with sea salt and pepper, rubbing the seasoning into the slashes. Set aside while you make the sauce.
Chop the herbs and chives together and remove 1 tablespoon and set aside. Mince the capers and pickles together and add to the herbs in a bowl. (You can chop the herbs as coarse or as fine as you like, even using a food processor if you wish, but I like mine rustic and rather chunky.) Stir in the garlic, lemon zest, and mustard, then add ¼ cup olive oil and lemon juice and vinegar to taste, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Rub the tablespoon of minced herbs into the slashes on both sides of the fish, drizzle with olive oil, and arrange them on an oiled baking sheet on top of the sliced yellow onion. Tuck the lemon slices, bay leaves, shallots, crushed garlic cloves and as many of the herb stems and stalks as you can fit into the cavities. Place in the oven to roast for 20 minutes, or until the tip of a knife inserted into the flesh close to the bone comes away easily, and you can see the flesh is opaque. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 2-3 minutes before serving.
At the table, using 2 large soupspoons, pull the meat away from the bones and serve each diner some fish and onions topped with a generous spoonful of herb sauce and a lemon wedge. Once the top filet is removed, lift off the spine and serve the bottom filet.