Sunday, May 28, 2017

Grilled Red Snapper with Cilantro and Onion Stuffing or حمراء مشوية مع حشوة

Grilled red snapper is a deliciously easy dish, cooked over a charcoal fire. The snapper stays moist of you grill with the scales on - and flavor is added - when you fill it with cilantro and onion stuffing, a traditional recipe from my current home, the United Arab Emirates.

I grew up with a father that fished and hunted so I am not unfamiliar with guts and eyeballs on foodstuff. But honestly, the first time I remember seeing a whole fish on a plate was probably when I was 10 or 11 years old, visiting Daddy in Venezuela or Peru and my stepmother not only ordered a whole fish but she popped out the eyeball and ate it with relish saying it was a delicacy.  Needless to say, as a child, I was repulsed. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the rest of the fish though!

Then when we lived in Abu Dhabi back in late Eighties and I was the editor at a small publishing house, my boss was an Omani gentleman who taught me that the sweetest part of the fish was the cheek, which is found behind the eye in a little pocket.  I always go for that little piece first because he was so right. (Thanks, Saleh!) If you’ve never cooked a whole fish, I’d like to encourage you to try it.  There is no way a fish filet can be as tasty as a whole fish cooked on the bones.  If the eyes really offend you, get your fish guy to cut off the head, but leave the rest of the fish intact.

Our theme is grilling this week but I wanted especially to make something from the United Arab Emirates, since this is home right now.  This recipe comes to me from a fellow Texan who married an Emirati and moved to the UAE.  Her blog is filled with delicious local fare, with complete explanations and photos, and is a treasure trove of ideas for anyone interested in Emirati cooking.  MaryAnn is a sweetheart and I am grateful to her for her advice and expertise.  You can find her blog at Emiratican Kitchen. She hasn't updated in a while because she is a beautiful seamstress and that has become her focus. but the recipes are all still there. If you leave her a comment, please tell her Stacy sent you.

In Arabic, red snapper is hamra, grilled is meshwiya and stuffing is hashwa, so this is hashwa meshwiyah m’a hashwa or as MaryAnn put it more simply, grilled hamra with hashwa.  Whatever you call it, it is delicious!  For her recipe, I was supposed to use a large red snapper of one kilo or about 2.2 pounds, but sometimes those are hard to come by.  I substituted two smaller snappers so the cooking time was much shorter.  And since we were just two eating that night, I ended up freezing the second one. It made a beautiful dinner another night.

Grilled Red Snapper with Cilantro and Onion Stuffing

Grilling a whole fish with scales on keeps it from sticking to the hot grill.  Stuffing it with onions, cilantro and spices infuses the whole fish with lovely flavors and keeps it from drying out on the grill.

Hamra (Red Snapper) 2 lbs plus or 1 kg - or larger (Whole – do not scale or trim fins)

For the stuffing:
1 medium-sized onion
1 medium-sized green bell pepper
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized knob fresh ginger
1 bunch cilantro or fresh coriander
1/4 cup or 60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin powder

Gut the fish from the belly to leave a space for the stuffing.  (I let the fish guy at my local market do this job for me.)  Make sure to leave the scales on so the fish won’t stick to the grill.

Chop your onion and bell pepper finely.  Peel and mince your garlic and ginger.  Wash your cilantro thoroughly and trim off the end hard woody ends of the stems.  Chop the stems of the cilantro very finely and then chop the leaves roughly.

In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly mix the onion, bell pepper, cilantro, garlic and ginger with all of the spices and the olive oil.

Fill the cavity in the fish with the stuffing.

Using a large needle and some kitchen string (I used poultry string, normally used for trussing a chicken for roasting) sew sides of the fish belly back together.  (I could not find my large needles, so I used an ice pick to poke the holes.  Then I put the stuffing in and tied the knots.)

Tie knots as you go to make sure the sewing is secure.

Meanwhile, light your fire in the barbecue pit.  When the coals are light grey all around the edges, they are ready.

Place the fish on the grill and put the cover on the pit with a little opening to make sure there is enough air getting in so you don’t smother the coals.

Cook for about 10-12 minutes on each side, ideally turning only once so your fish doesn’t fall apart.   If you are fortunate to find a larger fish, MaryAnn says to cook it for 30 minutes on each side.

Put a knife in at the thickest part and look at the bones to make sure the fish is cooked all the way down.  When the fish meat is completely white and opaque, the fish is done.

To serve, peel the charred skin and scales off with a knife and lift the meat off the bones.

Lift the meat off the bones with a knife or spatula. 
Lift the bones off to get to the other side. 
Traditionally, MaryAnn says this is served with white rice and fresh greens.  I didn’t take a photo of it, but we topped the fish with a little of the stuffing and it was delicious.


 Easy BBQ Recipes

Best Burgers and Sandwiches

Grill Master Mains

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Sizzling Sweets


  1. Looks wonderful Stacey! I never appreciated fish growing up (maybe because I was born in the land locked Midwest) but now eat them with relish! I'll be trying this soon - and adding your friend to my "blogs I read" list!

  2. Fish is a constant in our house, Amanda. I probably serve it in some form at least twice a week. I have to say, it's the thing I miss most when we are traveling and eating mostly restaurant food because plain fish is hard to come by. I am sure you will love MaryAnn. Thanks for hosting this great theme!

  3. Holey socks, that looks fantastic! I'll have to show this one to the hubby

  4. This recipes is out of this world! Just fabulous and exactly how I like my fish... cooked whole and stuffed for flavor. Love that you shared this during #Sundaysupper

  5. My husband came home early to grill this one for us, Conni. Didn't he do a great job?

  6. What a gorgeous plate of food, Stacy! My first whole fish must have been a few decades back in Tuscany! Loved it!

  7. Stacy, this dish looks fantastic. I love fish and I can't wait to try your recipe!

  8. I have never tried cooking a whole fish. You have spurred me on to give it a try :)

  9. I absolutely love snapper, this looks great! Kudos to you for cooking a whole fish!

  10. Thank you Stacy... You have just given me a reason to go to this market where I can get whole fish with scales (among a whole lot of other wonderful foods). I would fire up the grill for this anytime.

  11. I've never cook snapper before but that stuffing sounds incredible!

  12. Yes, indeed, eyeballs intact! Living in America has softened me a bit... But I pop right back to the traditional way of cooking when I visit Japanese markets. Your snapper looks fabulous, Stacy. My cowboy hat is off to you for gourmet skills =)

  13. I had never seen a whole fish cooked on a plate until I went to Uganda. I was wary, but ended up loving it. Your version looks great!

  14. My first whole fish experience was at a local Thai restaurant, and I was freaked out, but I was much more receptive to it at a restaurant on the coast of Italy. This is impressive!

  15. I can almost taste it! I love cooking and eating whole fish. Nothing goes to waste and there's a piece for everyone. BTW...that stuffing sounds so amazing...

  16. Wow, Stacy! This looks so good!! I still don't think I'd eat the eyeball, and would have to work up to the cheek, but the rest is mine :-)

  17. My goodness - this looks wonderful but then all your dishes do. Thanks for the tutorial on how to cook a whole fish. I've always wondered how to do that. I don't have a step-mom but I'm pretty sure if I had done that in front of the boys when we first married, they would have convinced their dad to NOT marry me! :)

  18. You did an amazing job with this whole fish Stacy! My father is a hunter and fisherman too, and my mother (with my grandfather) would fight over the lamb's eyes when there was a barbecue going on. So I completely understand you here!

  19. I have never prepared a whole fish before and am still pretty intimidated, but this recipe sounds so amazing. Maybe I can have my husband do all the dirty work :)


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