About Beth

Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

« Opps | Main | Halibut or Other Fish Steaks Sauced with White Wine and Anchovies »

Porgies or Other Small Fish Pan-Roasted with Marjoram and Lemon

The way this challenge is set up you don't have complete freedom to select what you will be making. . . when your day of the week rolls around you turn to the recipe that is next in the book and have at it. Irene had to conquer her fear of eating eggs and did this with style. In this section of the book many of us are dealing with fish issues. The challenge is a blessing and a curse - it forces you to push your boundaries as a cook. Boy, does it ever.

Fish is firmly in the category of foods that caused me grief as a child. . . hell, as an adult. If it wasn't tuna from a tin or wrapped in three inches of batter from the fish and chip store I wasn't going to eat it. No dessert - fine. No TV - equally fine. It wasn't until about four years ago when I approached 300 lbs on the scales that I decided a more healthy diet was needed. This diet includes fish. In fact we cook fish every week and in some cases two or three times a week.

You know that I discovered that I really like fish. The gag reflex that I experienced as a kid has left. Having said that, I had never cooked a whole one. No, not at all.


Cooking fish now being fine, I guess the next part in my transition was cooking a whole fish. This recipe called for small, whole fish such as porgies, bass, or pompano. In fairness, the book did suggest fillets with skin but the title wasn't Fillets with Skin Pan-Roasted with Marjoram and Lemon. I wouldn't be able to look my fellow Pomodori in the eye had I whimped out now (I shall save that for the lamb kidney recipe perhaps).

I went off to the fish monger and asked for porgies. He looked at me as if I had two heads.

"I've never heard of those," he declared.

I knew immediately that he was a fraud. Fish mongers being in short supply in this area . . . I kept at it.

I had read online that bream were a type of porgy. There were some nice looking bream on ice in the display case so I asked for the smallest ones he had (Marcella suggests that they be 3/4 to 1 pound each). I asked him to gut and scale them for me.

Imagine my shocked look when he asked me if I wanted to keep the guts?

What in god's name would I want that for? Fertilizer, I suppose, but it wasn't happening - the raccoons are already bad enough this summer.

I was happy to pick up a nicely wrapped package of fish.

The cats were thrilled when I brought that fish home. In fact, it is safe to say that this has been their favourite challenge by far. Never have I seen them so enthused about something I was cooking. Clearly they were hoping that one of those fish would be flopped off of the counter and into their territory.

Never having cooked a whole fish I wasn't prepared to see it looking up at me. It didn't bother me from a 'this was once a swimming beast with a beating heart who nuzzled their young' perspective - being a carnivore I don't much care about that - there is a reason why humans have incisors folks and it ain't to gnaw on a carrot. I just didn't like staring at the meat I was due to cook and having it stare BACK!

This recipe calls for pan-roasting - a technique that is neither sautéing nor braising. It provides for more controlled heat then with oven roasting. The end result has the slow concentration of flavour that comes from roasting combined with the juiciness one gets from using a hot heat source under the pan.

The recipe is simplicity itself. Dredge the fish in flour. Place it in a hot pan with oil/butter, marjoram, and garlic. Brown. Squirt with lemon, add salt pepper, and cover until cooked. Done.

Transfer to a platter, pour the juices over it, and serve.


Oh, oh!

Now we were presented with a new dilemma. How to eat the cooked fish laying on the platter staring up at us.

Never having cooked a whole fish I didn't have a clue how to eat it. How was it de-boned? What happened to the head and tail? Did one eat the skin?

In the end I discovered that the skeletal structure came out relatively easily taking the head and tail with it. However, small bones remained. Both of us have relatives who almost died choking on a fish bone (doesn't everyone?) so we gingerly ate our fish.

Once we got past the head, the bones, and the tail we discovered that we liked it. The mild, almost sweet fish, was wonderful with the garlic, marjoram, and lemon. Indeed, we liked it a lot.

I doubt that we'll ever enjoy a whole fish in the same way that someone raised near the coast might but we enjoyed the combination of flavours; we won't be fearful of ordering a whole fish when we're next along the Mediterrean.

I was happy that I had met this challenge and not shirked my responsibility nor fallen into a huddled mass on the floor.

I may save that for my next challenge - squid.

Oh, oh!

Comments (5)


Yay, Jerry! Your fish looks great, and that's a recipe I have bookmarked to try. The Asian market in my area has superb whole fish at very fair prices, and I often grill or oven-roast them. For the upcoming Rosh Hashanah there's a tradition of making a whole fish with the "rosh" (Hebrew for head) on to symbolize the New Year. I do Wolfert's fish stuffed with stuffed dates, which I think you'd also enjoy.

Another entertaining post Jerry! The fish looked beautiful. By all means, next time you are in Italy, order a whole fish and see how quickly and expertly the waiter prepares the fish table side.

Now I am really looking forward to your squid report!

Beautiful fish photo, Jerry! And as usual your story was wonderfully entertaining. I have this one highlighted on our spreadsheet as a "not-mine-but-I-plan-to-make-it-anyway" recipe for the future.

Marcella Hazan:

Bravo! My compliments for having overcome the bream's baleful stare. I once had a student collapse when I brought out a whole fish to prepare. Afterward I asked, "What was that about?" "The eyes, she said, they are looking at me." "They can't look at you or at anyone else, the fish is dead."

If you visit Italy regularly, you are lucky to have overcome your fear and loathing of fish. The best food you can eat in Italy is seafood.

Happy Labor Day, Jerry.

Loved your post today. You have a great way with words. And good job on dealing with the whole fish. They look delicious.

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