This simple but impressive fish dish can be prepped ahead of time, making it perfect for company or special occasion meals. Butterflied fish fillets are topped with a layer of smoked salmon before being rolled and then baked. A fish sauce is prepared separately and can be used to garnish the plate and serve as a condiment to accompanying sides such as veggies or rice.
Sea bass is recommended, but other firm, meaty fish will also work. Allow one whole fish (about 1 lb. or 500 g) or the equivalent per person. For the head-on presentation as shown, have your fish monger clean and butterfly the fish from along the back, not the belly. This allows for easier positioning and transfer of the prepared fish before and after baking.
Have lots of fresh lemon on hand; you'll need it for flavor and garnish. The fish and the sauce can be prepped early in the day and refrigerated until shortly before serving time.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
- 4 whole small sea bass (about 1 lb. or 500 g each), butterflied from the back
- 7 oz. (200 g) smoked salmon fillets
- 2 whole lemons
- vegetable oil, for the baking pan
- small wooden skewers, for securing the rolled fillets
- fresh chives and lemon slices, for garnish
- ----- For the Sauce -----
- 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon Moroccan fish spices
- 1 large (or 2 small) fish bouillon cubes
- 1 teaspoon harissa or hot sauce, or to taste
- juice from 1 lemon
- 3/4 cup water
- reserved liquids from vegetables* (optional)
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
Prepare the Fish
Generously oil the bottom of a baking dish and set aside. Peel two lemons (you can reserve the skin to zest for another use), cut them into wedges, and then remove and discard the membranes and seeds. Coarsely chop the membrane-free lemon.
Inspect the whole fish fillets and remove any stray bones. Inspect the skin side and remove any stray pieces of fin or other inedible remnants. Cut off and discard the tails.
Place the fish meat-side-up and cut each butterflied fillet into two connected strips. It's easy to do this with scissors – simply cut the fillet evenly down the middle from the tail toward the head, leaving the last section near the gills uncut so the two halves remain connected. (If you are working with a butterflied fillet with head removed, cut the fillet in half from the narrow end toward the wider end, leaving a one- to two-inch segment uncut.)
Distribute the chopped lemon over the fish, then season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Top each fillet half with a layer of thinly sliced smoked salmon.
Roll each fillet half up like a rug to enclose the salmon and turn the connected rolls upright and facing inward, as you would for a palmier pastry. Insert a wooden skewer through both rolls to hold them intact, and transfer the fish to the oiled baking pan. Place a lemon slice in each fish's mouth.( At this point the fish can be covered and refrigerated for later baking and serving.)
Preheat an oven to 350° F (180° C). Place the fish in the oven and bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the fish tests done.
Make the Fish Sauce
Ahead of time, or while the fish is baking, make the sauce. In a blender or food processor, combine the celery, parsley, olive oil, spices, hot sauce, bouillon, lemon juice and water. Blend until thoroughly mixed. Add more water if necessary to make the sauce easy to pour. (At this point, the sauce can be covered and refrigerated until needed.)
Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan. In a separate bowl, combine the corn starch with the 1/4 cup water, stirring until smooth. Blend the corn starch mixture into the sauce and then add the creme fraiche. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly while the sauce reaches a simmer. Continue cooking for just a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and the oils begin to separate. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Spread a layer of sauce on individual or communal plates and arrange the baked fish on top. Carefully remove the skewers and garnish the mouth of the fish with fresh chives. Sides such as roasted or sauteed veggies can be plated atop the sauce with the fish or served separately.
* Note: Sauteed vegetables can be strained and the liquid reserved for using in place of the some of the water in the fish sauce.