Grilling Fresh Catch On A “Paradise Island” Fall Break
For a family fall break we escaped to the Anantara Digu Resort, a 35 minutes speedboat from Male. It was a lovely respite from the usual day to day. We spent our time on this “paradise island” snorkeling clear blue waters; catching up on reading and taking cat naps under swaying palms. Life on the tropical atolls of the Maldives reminded me how satisfying and simple cooking and eating outdoors can be. We thrived on a diet of fresh fruits and simply prepared grilled fish from the Indian Ocean.
One of the more rewarding activities over the holiday was fishing the waters of the Maldives. The Anantara’s experienced Maldivian crew transported us on a dhoni, a simple Maldivian wooden boat, to hit a prime fishing spot during one early evening. By the time we dropped anchor, using the simplest of fishing gear….a spool of thick fishing line and trimmings of fresh squid for bait, we all were feeling tugs on our fishing lines within minutes.
The type of seafood commonly caught in the waters of the Maldives are grouper, red snapper and an interesting firm textured fish called a green job. We successfully caught one of each, weighing in about 2 kg per fish. We opted to save the red snapper for our dinner that evening and returned rest of our catch to the ocean.
The chefs at Anantara, accommodated our request to grill our fresh catch that evening. We opted for the snapper to be seasoned with the slightest rub of salt and pepper, grilled over an open fire and served with steamed rice and fresh ground garlic chili paste on the side. I forget how satisfying freshly caught fish can taste with the slightest seasoning and flamed until until crisp on the outside and ever so succulent on the inside.
No question, eating fresh caught fish on a balmy evening on a beach is tough to beat. The next best thing is to duplicate the experience at home. I’m making a point this week to head early morning to the wet market to choose the fresh catch of the day and create our own memorable seafood meal at home.
Grilled Whole Fish
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 red Fresno chiles, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons chopped galangal
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried shrimp paste
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 pound whole red snapper, sea bass or tilapia, scaled and gutted
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon palm sugar
1/4 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon salt
1 lime, cut into wedges
Preheat a grill over high heat or an oven to 450°F. To make the chili paste, use a blender or a mini-food processor to grind the paste ingredients with 2 tablespoons of water to form a smooth paste. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the chili paste until fragrant and the paste turns a shade darker, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the lime juice, sugar and salt and simmer for 2 more minutes. Remove the paste from the heat, transfer it to a large shallow bowl and let cool to room temperature.
To prepare the fish for grilling, hold a knife at a 45 degree angle and score the side of the fish crosswise down the length of the fish 3 times. Repeat on the other side. Use your hands to rub the fish inside and out with the 2 tablespoons oil and 1 teaspoon salt.
Once the grill or oven is hot, oil the grill grates and place the whole fish on the grill or place the fish on a baking sheet and roast in the center rack of an oven. Grill or bake the fish 7 to 10 minutes on one side and carefully turn the fish over and grill or bake on the other side for another 7 to 10 minutes.
To serve, transfer the whole fish to a warmed platter and serve right away with the chili paste and lime wedges as a garnish.