Whole Snapper with Ponzu Sauce, Curry Aioli and Cilantro Chutney

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Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Whole snapper (opakapaka in Hawaiian) makes an impressive presentation at chef Ed Kenney’s Waikiki restaurant, Mahina & Sun’s. At the restaurant, they use the highly prized pink snapper, which is found off the coast of Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but you can substitute another type of snapper, or any firm white fish. Chef Kenney deep-fries the fish at his restaurant, but to make it easier to prepare at home, this recipe calls for grilling the fish in a perforated pan. We serve it with the same three sauces you’ll see at the restaurant: curry aioli, cilantro chutney and ponzu sauce. The ponzu sauce is best made a day before serving, and the curry aioli can be made up to 5 days in advance, but the cilantro chutney is best made the day you serve it.


For the ponzu sauce:

  • 6 Tbs. (3 fl. oz./90 ml) Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. yuzu juice
  • 2 Tbs. rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. (4 1/2 fl. oz./140 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. mirin
  • 1/2 cup (1/6 oz./5 g) bonito flakes
  • 1 piece kombu, about 2 inches (5-cm) long

For the curry aioli:

  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz./240 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 dash Tabasco
  • 2 Tbs. curry powder

For the cilantro chutney:

  • 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) fresh cilantro leaves, plus 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbs. whole coriander seeds
  • 4 small green onions, sliced
  • 1 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh
  • 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted

For the fish:

  • 4 whole snapper or other firm white fish, each about 2 lb. (1 kg), cleaned, with head and tail intact
  • 4-inch (10-cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) kaffir lime leaves (optional)
  • 4 Tbs. (2 fl. oz./60 ml) olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


To make the ponzu sauce, in a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, yuzu juice, vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, bonito flakes and kombu. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Set aside.

To make the curry aioli, in a food processor, combine the garlic and 1/4 tsp. salt and process until the garlic is minced. Stop the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in about 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) of the olive oil. Drizzle in 1 Tbs. of the lemon juice, add the Tabasco, then drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml) olive oil and process until smooth and blended. Transfer the aioli to a bowl. Whisk in the remaining 2 Tbs. lemon juice, the curry powder, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper until smooth, making sure there are no lumps of curry powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The curry aioli can be served immediately or stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To make the cilantro chutney, in a high-speed blender, combine the 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) cilantro, the ground cumin, coriander, green onions, ginger, olive oil, parsley, garlic and 2 tsp. salt and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice, cumin seeds and the 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Prepare a hot fire in a grill.

While the grill is heating, prepare the fish. Rinse each fish under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, make 3 diagonal slashes, almost to the bone, across both sides of each fish.

In a bowl, toss together the ginger, cilantro and kaffir lime leaves. Set aside a quarter of the mixture. Using the remaining three-quarters, stuff the body cavity of each fish, dividing the mixture evenly. Rub both sides of each fish with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tuck the remaining ginger mixture into the slits in the fish, dividing it evenly.

Place 2 of the fish in a mesh grill pan and place on the grill. Cook, without moving or turning the fish, until the skin on the bottom is crisp, about 4 minutes. Carefully flip both of the fish and continue grilling until the skin on the other side is crisp and the flesh of the fish just begins to flake easily, about 4 minutes more. Transfer the fish to a large platter, cover with aluminum foil and set aside in a warm place. Carefully wipe out the grill pan, then repeat to cook the remaining fish. Transfer the fish to the platter.

To serve, pour the the ponzu sauce, curry aioli and cilantro chutney into small serving bowls. Present the platter of whole fish and the sauces at the table and let diners help themselves. Serves 8.

Adapted from a recipe by Ed Kenney of Mahina & Sun’s, Waikiki, Hawaii

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