Although you pay in gold for John Dory, known in Italian as pesce San Pietro or “St. Peter’s fish”, it is worth every penny. With a firm texture and a buttery flavor that is superb on its own, it’s best cooked with just a few simple ingredients that won’t steal the show.
The John Dory boasts long spines :: spine on its dorsal fin and a large dot on both its sides that according to the legend that my fishmonger recounted to me, corresponds to the fingerprints left by Saint Peter when he picked up the fish with his hand, took pity on it and threw it back into the sea. Lucky little guy.
Not only is John Dory prized among chefs for it taste and texture, but the meat also separates into four boneless fillets :: filetti, perfect for kids or for who (*cough* me*) doesn’t have the patience to pick apart the white from the bone and wants to dig into the meal right away.
For many years I thought that cooking a fish whole was a daunting process. I mean it’s what fine dining restaurants do, so it had to be right? I worked on the Italian Adriatic coast for a month each summer :: estate during the first four years that I lived here, and I clearly remember the penguin dressed waiter at my hotel’s restaurant that would waddle to my table pushing a cart topped with a long skinny platter. He would stand in front of me carefully peeling back the fish’s skin as he sectioned off the fillets of white meat and positioned them carefully on a white plate before topping them with an aromatic herb or sauce; what elegant presentation.
To my surprise baking a fish whole requires very little work; in less than 5 minutes you have it prepped and then the oven does the rest of the work. My Italian friend Isabella shared this mouthwatering recipe with me that simply calls for four ingredients: fresh datterini or grape tomatoes, garlic, capers and an aromatic extra virgin olive oil. If you are not a fan of capers :: capperi, just add more tomatoes instead.
- 1 John Dory, whole with insides removed
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- ¼ cup capers
- ¼ cup quartered datterini or grape tomatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 356°F (180°C)
- Rinse and dry the San Pietro thoroughly, then stuff with the garlic, capers and tomatoes. Set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the skin easily peels away and the meat flakes when pricked with a fork.
- To serve: peel the skin off and discard. Section off four fillets and set on a serving platter then top with the capers and tomatoes. Discard the garlic. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and eat immediately.