“O Kitchen, Kitchen, wherefore art thou Kitchen?”
If you’ve had a chance to listen to the Bay Seasoning podcast (check it out if you haven’t already, subscribe, and let me know what you think), you’ll know Jonathan and I just lived through a three month home remodel. Why live through a remodel? Haven’t you heard about the San Francisco housing shortage and our skyrocketing home values? Since we can’t afford to sell and buy something nicer, bigger, or with outdoor space, we, like so many homeowners in SF who aren’t tech billionaires, are staying put and upgrading as best we can.
Though we made it through this somewhat unscathed and am confident my husband isn’t planning on serving me divorce papers anytime soon (at least not because of the reno), I have to admit one thing, I wasn’t prepared for the withdrawal of not having a kitchen to cook in.
While crews moved walls, the tile guy laid this amazing herringbone backsplash, and I finished up the designs of our new blue kitchen cabinets, our brand new kitchen appliances (in desperate need of attention), collected dust in the garage. And every time I walked in there to grab something from the tiny overflowing storage space we have in front of our parking spot, they called to me.
“Unshackle us from these cardboard chains and plug us into an outlet for god’s sake,” they pleaded, and yet I did nothing. Shackled by our construction schedule, I couldn’t even look them square on. I just swallowed my pain and reminded myself that one day soon we’d be together, getting acquainted with one another. An induction range with precise temperature settings. A Fisher and Paykel fridge with superior European cooling controls. A convection oven missing that all-to-familiar cold spot in the middle of the middle rack where 99% of all foods are meant to be baked.
Our plan was to spend a few days each week at our home in Sonoma, where I had the chance to use the toaster in the mornings, and throw some pre-mixed Toll House cookie batter on a baking sheet for dessert some evenings. But most weekends were spent running errands, searching for the perfect light fixture for the guest bathroom, making decisions on cabinet pulls, deciphering paint colors, and navigating the gauntlet of a vacation home temporarily filled to the brim with the contents of our primary residence. Not once did I get the chance to braise something, not even a brisket, or roast some heirloom tomatoes for a marinara sauce I’d be able to freeze and use again for months. We couldn’t buy produce unless we could commit to eating it that day, because we had no fridge in the city to store fruit, veggies, or leftovers of any kind.
Because, when we weren’t in Guerneville we were subletting a living room in the Lower Haight from a crazy couple and their 14-month old baby. Their kitchen was always dirty, half of the contents of their fridge needed to be tossed, the floors were always sticky with some film I couldn’t wash off my feet, cabinets and drawers didn’t open and close properly, their spices and pest control sprays were stored in the same place, and in short—it was disgusting. I didn’t want to walk in there to get a glass of water let alone attempt a meal.
Now I love cooking in other people’s kitchens and find it a blast to cook alongside friends and family in almost any condition. But this sublet needed a Hazmat sign posted at the entrance and CPS should be taking a closer look. I certainly wasn’t gonna touch it with a ten-foot whisk.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the week we spent in Punta Mita, Mexico, in a beautiful penthouse condo overlooking the ocean during the winter break. It was a chance to go grocery shopping for an entire meal. To cook over the course of several hours for the family, in a space that was clean and belonged to me for the week we were staying there. And once we learned where the fishermen came in every morning with their fresh catch, we bought some whole red snappers, and I got to perform some cooking magic.
Roasted Whole Red Snapper With Cilantro Serrano Pesto
On the Southern end of the main drag of Punta Mita, Mexico, behind the tourism office and “co-operativo” is where you’ll find the “fish market.” I use air quotes when I say “fish market,” because it’s really just a concentration of four to five barefoot men with leathery skin, and missing teeth in Tecate and fish-gut-soaked wife-beaters sitting around coffin-shaped fridges and beat up coolers, laughing and smoking cigarettes; which, come to think of it, is how I’d describe a lot of fish markets in Mexico.
It took us a few days to find Punta Mita’s fish market because it’s so small (not at all like the fish market we’d been to in Panama City), and if you blink you’ll miss it. The wafting smell of fish guts and darkening blood-stained dirt were signs we were close, and when I spotted this pile of fish parts swarming with flies is when we figured we’d arrived at our destination.
Since my sister-in-law and I took a yoga class in town that morning, by the time we got to the fish market, all the spiny pacific lobster, octopus, tuna and premium pieces of fish were gone. As is the case with any fish market, it’s recommended you get there early, before all the best catches are bought by restaurant and hotel kitchen staff on their way to work. But my excitement for cooking needed to be fulfilled or I was gonna burst, and the smaller whole red snappers seemed like the perfect challenge.
They also sold us some already filleted Tilapia as backup in case the whole red snapper wasn’t enough. That I turned into a delicious ceviche with lime juice and tequila.
- 3 whole red snappers, descaled and gutted.
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 whole white onion sliced into rings
- Juice of 3 limes
- ½ serrano chile
- ½ cup of cilantro
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Place the sliced onions along the bottom of a roasting pan.
Whether you’re buying fish at the grocery or fish market in the states, or out of a cooler from a guy with three teeth, you can ask them to “clean” the fish for you, and that will entail scraping off the scales from the skin and cutting some of the excess fins. If they haven’t already done so, the innards should be removed too, but usually, they’ve taken care of that on the boat.
Score the whole red snapper on both sides about 1.5 inches apart and only cut into the flesh a little bit. You don’t want to cut clear through the flesh and into the cavity of the fish.
Pat the fish dry inside and out, and place them in a roasting pan over the sliced onion rings.
Blend the garlic, serrano chile, lime juice, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a blender (or food processor) and puree until you have a paste or pesto.
Evenly rub the exteriors and interiors of the red snapper bodies with all the paste. It’s easiest to use your fingers.
Roast the fish at 400° uncovered for 20-25 minutes until the onions are softened and the fish is cooked through. Turn on the broil to high and finish broiling the whole red snappers for another 3 minutes to get the skin charred and crispy.
The onions should be cooked, but still have a little bite to them. If you like your onions more charred and limp, you can carefully remove the fish from the pan, and let the onions continue to cook alone under the broiler for another 2-3 minutes. The sauce from the fish will caramelize and flavor the onions, but it can also burn and smoke, so make sure to watch the onion closely.
Enjoy this roasted whole red snapper with cilantro serrano pesto over white rice, Spanish rice, or with a side of steamed vegetables.