Take the #1 vaporetto (water bus) to Piazza San Marco and head straight for the rooftop restaurant at the Danieli, one of Venice's most venerable hotels. Marvel at one of the most spectacular sights in the whole world, the expanse of the Canale Grande as you take your seat.
Order the Branzino al forno con patate, which is a delicate-tasting sea bass baked with paper-thin potatoes. At the Danieli, the fish is presented whole, sitting proudly upright on the potatoes. I asked the waiter how the fish managed to stay upright and not collapse in the oven, and he quickly pulled a whole potato from the slit underside of the fish. What a great idea, and it works!
I tried it with farm-raised trout and the results were perfect. This is an effortless and great presentation dish for company since the potatoes can be cut and held in cold water until ready. Any whole fish suitable for baking will do. Have the fish gutted by the fishmonger but leave the head on.
1 teaspoon plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large Russet potato, peeled and cut into paper-thin slices
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fine black pepper
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 small whole potato, scrubbed
1 1/4 pounds whole, gutted farm-raised salmon, trout, or sea bass
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Brush a 14 x 8 x 2 1/4-inch-deep au gratin dish or similar Pyrex baking dish with 1 teaspoon of the melted butter. Use half of the potato slices to make an overlapping layer in the dish.
Combine the remaining butter with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, the salt, pepper, and parsley. Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter mixture over the potatoes. Make another layer with the remaining potato slices and pour another 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter mixture over them.
Open the fish cavity and insert the whole smaller potato. If necessary, cut a small piece off the bottom of the potato so it does not roll before positioning it in the cavity of the fish. Place the fish on top of the potatoes in the baking dish and brush the fish with the remaining butter.
Bake the fish for 15 to 18 minutes. Do not overcook it or it will become dry. Use a fork to gently poke the sides of the fish and if it flakes easily remove it at once.
Remove the whole potato from the fish cavity and discard it. Present the dish at the table for all to admire, then remove the fish to a cutting surface and cut the head off with a fish knife or a sharp knife and discard it. Gently pull the fish skin away from the body, starting at the tail. It should peel off easily. Discard the skin. Fillet the fish, removing the bones, and serve it with some of the potatoes.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.
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