Whole roasted fish with salsa verde

When I was a kid, we lived in Tropical North Queensland, in a little town. Most Friday afternoons, we would pile into the family cruiser and make the journey east to our unit at Wonga Beach. Living just south of the amazing Daintree River provided my brother and I with the most wonderful childhood; playing all day on the beach, discovering caves, dodging jellyfish in the water, climbing trees (and breaking limbs in the process), trekking alongside reefs at low tide and encountering the venomous snakes we disturbed whilst exploring. Thinking back, it is amazing to think that we weren't taken by crocodiles or bitten by angry snakes, but (being young) we were oblivious to the danger. Amongst my favourite memories of our time up north, is the fishing trips. Dad and I would wake up relatively early, jump in our little tinny and fish just offshore around the reefs for a few hours. And a few hours was all we needed, because we'd catch five to seven fish most trips.

Since moving to Brisbane, we mainly fish from shore, with the occasional off-shore trip. When Dad returned from a recent fishing trip with a couple of sweetlip, I was reminded of those old days when my hand-line (baited up by Dad) reeled in a heap of parrotfish, cod, coral trout and sweetlip. I was excited to cook Dad's fresh sweetlip like we used to - roasted whole with salt, pepper and lemon. Having plucked a bunch of fragrant basil from the garden that morning, I figured a salsa verde would make the perfect accompaniment. Salsa verde is essentially a dressing of herbs, lemon juice and capers, and it goes deliciously with flakey pieces of fresh fish. The days are still beautifully warm which means that this fish is just perfect for lunch this weekend.

What you'll need:
1 whole fish, gutted, cleaned and scaled
Salt flakes and cracked pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve

Salsa verde:
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 160˚C and place a sheet of baking paper into a large roasting pan. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Place the fish into the prepared roasting pan, and cut three to four diagonal slits on each side of the fish. Season well with salt and pepper and squeeze some lemon juice over top. Roast the fish for around 25 minutes or until flesh is no longer opaque. (Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the fish.)

While the fish is in the oven, you've got plenty of time to make the salsa verde. Place the parsley, basil, garlic, capers, oil, sugar and juice of one lemon into a food processor. Whizz up the ingredients until they've all been chopped and the mixture has combined nicely. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Now, to fillet and eat the whole cooked fish...

How to fillet your whole fish:
Eating a whole fish will be a bit different depending on the fish, but this is a pretty general way to go.

Pluck the fins off the fish and discard them. Use a sharp knife to cut down between the head and the body until the knife touches the spine. Make the same cut at the tail end. Starting at this tail cut, turn the knife onto its side and slide it right along the backbone until it meets the first incision at the head. Use a couple of forks to gently push this fillet away from the skeleton and, if the fish is cooked correctly, it will slide right away from the bones and flake. You can transfer this fillet to a serving plate or enjoy it with salsa verde before moving on to the second fillet. (We ate this fillet straight from the bones.) For the second fillet, lift the tail of the fish up and peel the skeleton away. Dispose of head and skeleton and enjoy the second fillet!