How to bake a whole fish for Christmas Eve

Across Europe, seafood and shellfish appear prominently on the dinner table

It was around this time in December, for the past two years, that we celebrated Irish seafood and shellfish in our cafe and wine bar, Tartare. The purpose of this event was, firstly, to bring people and producers together over a multitude of dishes, from crab claws with seaweed butter to scallops with cauliflower puree and black pudding. The second reason was to celebrate Irish seafood at Christmas.

In many countries across Europe, on Christmas Eve seafood and shellfish appear prominently on the dinner table. I'm thinking of whole sea bream or sea bass, roasted with fennel and lemons or a whole turbot baked with courgettes and peppers.

How to bake a whole fish for Christmas Eve

Though it may seem intimidating, baking or roasting a fish whole is actually a lot easier than pan frying a fillet. Of course, there are the bones to consider but once you can look beyond the fact that they are really nothing to get in a twist about, you can pop the fish in the oven and sit back and relax.

Sea bass is widely available in both fishmongers and supermarkets so it’s a good choice to begin with. Because of its size, it cooks relatively quickly and will be ready in less than 20 minutes, depending on size. One medium sea bass will feed two people so multiply up as necessary.

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Season the belly of the fish with sea salt, a little fresh thyme and a quarter of a lemon. Oil and season the outside of the fish and score each side three times (this will help the cooking process). Slice two courgettes into thin rounds and lay on a baking tray. Season with oil, sea salt, black pepper and a little more fresh thyme (rosemary, fennel or dill would also do).

Place the fish in a 180 degree oven. At this temperature, the fish will take approximately 15 minutes. The easiest way to check if it is done is to check it with a food thermometer; 55 degrees is the magic number for fish, on or off the bone.