Amongst the photos of my "inspiration" folder, I found that the whole fish received the most attention from my audience. So by popular demand, I bring you my first recipe.
1 2pound firm white fish (such as snapper, seabass, or trout, gutted, scaled and gills removed)
1t kosher salt
2T extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic depending on size
1 lemon cut into quarter inch lemon wheel slices
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
1t dried oregano
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the inside and outside of the fish thoroughly, making sure there are no straggly scales left behind. Pat dry and place on a cutting board with the head facing the left and the tail facing the right (people read from left to right, its an aesthetic thing).
Crush the garlic by putting it between a chef knife blade and a cutting board and then applying pressure on the blade with the base of your hand. Heat a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat and toss the garlic until very lightly browned. Remove garlic from oil and set aside.
Vertically score the surface of the flesh 2 inches long, spacing them about 1 inch apart and half an inch deep. Do this 8 times, starting from behind the gills working your way to the tail.
Take 2 of the quarter inch lemon wheel slices and cut them vertically into 4 equal half moons. Stuff 1 half moon lemon wheel into every other slice of the fish. Alternate each incision with 1 bay leaf. Place the fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (more ideal) or foil that leaves at least 6 inches on all sides. Drizzle the garlic oil all over the the surface of the fish. Season with salt inside and out.
Strip the 2 sprigs of thyme of its leaves by holding the top of the sprig in one hand and in a downward motion, running your pointer finger and thumb down to the base of the sprig with the other hand. Sprinkle the top of the fish with thyme and dried oregano leaves.
Stuff the cavity of the fish with remaining lemon wheel slices, 2 sprigs of thyme and roasted garlic from the pan. Tuck the right and left sides of the foil upward first and then follow with the top and bottom until all four points meet in the center above the fish. Roll the foil in a downward motion, tucking it like you would with a bag of chips. Make sure there's at least an inch or two for the fish to steam when setting it in the oven.
Depending on the density of the fish and the strength of your oven the fish could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes. Check on the fish after 20 minutes to see if its cooked all the way through. Slight translucent flesh is ok because the fish will continue to cook a few minutes after being removed, however you want to make sure the fish will lift off the bone so test it with a fork lightly. If it doesn't budge off the bone, put it back in for 5 more minutes.
If you don't know how to filet a cooked whole fish, I suggest you watch a YouTube video until I post one of my video blogs. The way I go about it is by dislocating the head and the tail from the center bone of the fish which should happen quite easily with just a fork and a spoon. I like using a spoon because it can delicately remove all the tiny bones easier than any other utensil. Once I discard the head (don't forget about the cheek meat) and tail, I run my spoon along the belly of the fish, pinching out the tiny bones. I then run the edge of the spoon at the very top of the fish from head to tail which usually naturally separates the two filets. Upon separating the filets you will see several tiny bones at the top of the fish that are connected and easily removed. At this time you can slowly move the spoon under the first filet and separate it from the separate bone and putting it on the plate. Remove and discard the center bone from the second filet and put that on the plate. Remove bay leaves as they are not for consumption.