This is Peter Gordon's version of a typical Croatian way to cook whole fish - baked atop a bed of sliced potatoes. Usually they are cooked with their heads on but, if your fish are too large to bake whole, do what Peter does here and cook the heads separately. See his story about his visit to the Dalmatian Coast here.
This recipe for 2 small, legal-sized fish will feed 4-6.
- Gut and scale the fish, trim off excess tail, fins and spikes, then season the stomach of the fish. Peel and boil around 1 kg potatoes, and slice a little thicker than 1cm. Cover the potatoes with cold water, bring to the boil with a little salt, and cook 7 minutes, then carefully drain in a colander.
- This next step is mine — not sure it’s the done thing in Croatia. Caramelise 2 onions (either red or white) in olive oil with 6 cloves peeled garlic and a few teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano. Mix this with the potatoes. Brush a roasting dish with olive oil then tip the potato mixture in and flatten it out evenly – no need to press it completely flat though.
- Lay the fish on top and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake at 180C until the fish is almost cooked on the upper side (pull it apart using a small sharp knife in the thickest part). Carefully flip the fish over — using two tongs is helpful as it will be quite fragile.
- Return the dish to the upper part of the oven, turn the grill function on full, and cook until the second side of the fish is almost cooked. In total a small snapper will take around 15-20 minutes.
- Lift the fish from the potatoes (it’ll be fragile) and place on a large plate. Return the potatoes to the oven and cook under the grill until golden. Meanwhile, remove the flesh from the fish bones, although you could serve them whole for guests to break apart.
- Take the potatoes from the oven, tip them and their juices on to a platter and lay the fish on top. If your fish have heads that are too large, then simply cut them off and bake in advance of the gratin, lightly oiled and sprinkled with sea salt. Cook the heads for about 10-15 minutes in total at 190C, turning over halfway through.