A crispy tangy spicy red snapper: flavors singing in exotic Southeast Asian voices. Restless nights preceded this recipe. There was hand wringing. Soul searching. The dilemma of which salt. Bali Rama, with its arrowhead tips of explosive freshness, was the seductive choice, a magnificent sea salt that seems never to steer me wrong. Maldon sea salt would have been a convenient and more predictable choice, salt’s gold standard of unflappable, balanced crispness. But the snapper wanted something more, something both melodic and taunting, like the sound of seashells raked by summer waves across a tropical reef. The choice of salts became clear: Bitterman's Flake with its huge pyramidal crystals that seem nearly to tremble with oceanic vitality, a sea salt with the mathematical exactitude of music.
Serves 3 to 4
For the Snapper:
- 2 teaspoon coriander seed, ground
- 1 tablespoon white peppercorns, ground
- 1 three-finger pinch Bitterman's Fleur de Sel
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, leave, minced
- 4 to 5 pounds cleaned (gutted, scaled, fins trimmed, gills removed) whole red snapper
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 three-finger pinches Bitterman's Flake Sea Salt
For the Sauce:
- 2 fresh lemon grass stalks, all fibrous layers removed, finely sliced
- 1/2 fresh chile, minced
- 1/4 cup Nam Pla (fish sauce)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup lime juice, about 2 limes
- 8 chives, finely sliced
Combine the coriander, peppercorns, fleur de sel, garlic and cilantro into a coarse paste. Make 3 deep slits in the sides of the fish and rub the spice paste into the slits and all over the surface of the fish. Set on a boiler pan and drizzle with lime juice and olive oil. Preheat the broiler and set the fish aside for 10 minutes while you make the sauce.
The lemon grass needs to be thoroughly trimmed so that only the tender heart is left. (The trick to lemon grass is pealing away way more of the outer layers than you might think.) Combine the sliced lemon grass, chile, fish sauce, water, and lime juice.
Broil the fish 4 inches away from the heat until the skin is crisp on both sides and fish flesh is opaque (but still moist) deep in the slits. Transfer to a serving platter.
Drizzle the sauce over the fish, scatter the chive, and finish with Bitterman's Flake over top.