My first experience oven roasting a whole fish was a big disappointment, and I really need to know what I should have done differently so that my next attempt (assuming there IS a next attempt) is more successful.
I bought two whole, cleaned oratas at Wegmans today. They met all the requirements for freshness, and I'm sure they were quite fresh. When I got them home, I poked around online for instructions/recipes. Fortunately, there was a lot of consistency in what I saw, so I felt good about what I planned to do. I watched this Melissa Clark video http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/din... and based on what I saw, decided to do the fish "Mediterranean style" using rosemary, garlic, lemon slices and garlic in the cavity, along with salt and pepper.
I thought I ought to rinse the fish and pat it dry before cooking. Remember, this is my FIRST time with a whole fish, and I didn't really think about what the fish cavity would look like. So... observation #1: there was something that looked like a dark, bloody "vein" running along the backbone on the inside. Is that normal, or was the fish not cleaned properly? I poked around the inside with paper towels, and rinsed it under running water, and tried to remove as much of that messy stuff as possible. Observation #2, there was "stuff" hanging from stringy things on the inside. This is sounding totally gross, and I'm sorry, but I made a decision to remove from the cavity anything that didn't look like something I'd want to eat.
Okay, now the fish was cleaned to my satisfaction. In the video, Melissa Clark seasoned the cavity with S&P and then stuffed it with sprigs of rosemary, lemon slices and garlic. I did the same; I also used some sprigs of fresh thyme. I attempted to do as Melissa did, but I found the cavities on my fish much smaller than on the Orata Melissa was stuffing in the video. No problem -- I put in as much as I could. Then I brushed the outsides with olive oil, put the two fish on a baking sheet and put them into a hot (450 degrees) preheated oven. I let them roast for 15 minutes. When I took them out, the fish was opaque and appeared to be cooked properly.
Now for the disappointing part -- the fish was pretty tasteless... bland... blah. I thought the flavors of the rosemary, thyme, garlic and lemon would come through -- it didn't. We sprinkled the fish with some Maldon sea salt flakes and squeezed on some fresh lemon juice. That was an improvement, but the fish was still pretty bland. Let me add that I've often had whole roasted fish in restaurants and I've enjoyed it immensely; this fish just seemed to have no flavor.
I don't know what, if anything, I could have done differently. Was it the fish I chose? Should I have bought the branzino instead of the orata? I really want to improve the result, but I'm clueless as to how. Yes, I've seen recipes for salt-baked whole fish, and maybe that would be better, but that wasn't what I was trying to do. I wanted a simple-but-delicious Mediterranean style whole fish that would leave me wanting more. This dish went mostly uneaten.
What should I do differently if I decide to try this again? Thanks so much for your insight!