Mr. English’s whole English family came over for an early Christmas lunch yesterday, and I, a non-Christian American, was faced with the challenge of festively feeding eight avid British holiday revelers. Traditionally, the English make a grand version of their weekly Sunday roast for Christmas: huge turkey or goose, or a big roast beef or ham, done with carrots and Yorkshire pudding and crispy roast potatoes and sprouts and the all-important, all-drowning gravy. It’s just not really what I love to eat, and I can only serve what I what I love to eat.
So I did a playful take on the English Christmas roast: instead of a whole bird or joint, I roasted whole fish, soaked overnight in a fabulous, fresh sauce of fines herbes, and roasted with whole cherry tomatoes right on the vine. Fines herbes is a French combination that goes gorgeously with fish: parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives. Delicate herbs, that would wither under a steady stare. Blended with nothing but olive oil, the sauce is vibrantly green, and roasted along with the bauble-like cherry tomatoes, they make a festive, thought not gimmicky, play on Christmas colors. Each person gets a whole fish, served with some of the fresh herb sauce set to the side, instead of gravy. I served it with seared and steamed potatoes with parsley, and butter-soaked Savoy cabbage.
The herbs and olive oil soak into the flesh of the fish, and you get the wonderful freshness of the parsley, the anise of the tarragon and chervil, and the mild onion hit of the chives into every crack in the blistered fish flesh. Mop up the juices with crusty, rugged bread. And pop a cherry tomato in your mouth and feel it burst. You rarely get so much freshness in winter, and get up from the table ready to celebrate, instead of nap. ‘Tis the season to try something new. And one thing I’ve learned living on the island that is Britain: there are plenty of fish in the sea.
Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.
- 2 ounces flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 ounces mixed chervil, chives, and tarragon, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup olive oil, plus a drizzle
- 4 whole trout, branzino, sea bream, or other individually sized whole fish, gutted and scaled
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 branches of small cherry tomatoes on the vine
Put the herbs and 3/4 cup olive oil in the food processor and let it whiz for 5 minutes, until it’s vibrantly green and almost homogenous. Set half of the sauce aside in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Put the other 4 in a rimmed roasting tray that holds all 4 fish in a single layer. Rub the fish, inside and out, with the remaining half of the herb sauce. Cover the tray with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat the broiler, with the oven rack in the second position down from the top (not just under the broiler, but slightly farther down). Season the fish liberally, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Lightly drizzle the tomatoes on their branches with olive oil and salt. Arrange the tomatoes around the fish. Broil for 10 to 11 minutes, pull out the fish, and carefully turn them over with a fish spatula. Broil for another 10 to 11 minutes, then serve with the remaining herb sauce on the side.
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