Red Snapper is one of the most popular of all white fish. It is naturally found all over the world with most of the fish harvests coming from the Gulf of Mexico and Indonesia. Red Snapper has a firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavor that lends itself very well to everything from hot chilies to subtle herbs.
What to Look for When Buying Red Snapper
The best source for red snapper is a reputable fishmonger.
Red snappers can grow as large as 35 pounds, but most fish are much smaller. It is often sold whole or in fillets. Whole fish are usually between 2 to 5 pounds. When buying whole red snapper, look for clear, red eyes and bright red skin that fades towards the belly. If you are purchasing fillets, try to buy them with the skin on. This will help hold the fish together and lets you get a look at the skin to make sure it’s really red snapper. Red snapper is harvested year round and should be available throughout the year.
How to Cook Red Snapper
Red snapper is a very versatile fish and can be cooked a number of different ways. It is an excellent fish to grill, either whole or in fillets. While it might seem difficult, grilling whole fish really isn't hard. The skin acts to hold the fish together and to protect the meat from the flame. Simply take a whole red snapper, fill the body with lemon slices, chili peppers, butter, herbs, and spices and you are ready to grill.
While you want a hot grill, the fish should sit over a lower heat, not necessarily indirect grilling, but low direct heat. In many parts of the world, the way to grill snapper is on a wet banana leaf. If you can find the leaves, you should cook with them. You might also attempt grilling it on a cedar plank, which is another great way to grill fish.
If you are grilling the fillets, keep the skin on while you grill. It's easier to cook with the skin on and helps hold in the flavors of the fish.
Sauteeing or baking red snapper are also common cooking methods. The fish can stand up to lots of flavors. Lemon, butter, and fresh herbs are all great accompaniments to red snapper. Consider cooking some hot chili peppers with the fish. If you want something mild, try some fresh Anaheim chilies or go for some heat with a chopped up habanero. Tropical fruits also pair well with red snapper. The fish is naturally found in warm climates and sweet fruit flavors are a common pairing in Mexico.
Red Snapper Substitutes
Red snapper can be expensive. If you cannot find or can't afford red snapper, you can substitute a different kind of snapper. Caribbean red snapper is comparable to the traditional red snapper. Also, mutton, vermilion, mangrove, and yellowtail are all similar kinds of snapper that will work for most recipes that call for red snapper.
As it grows in popularity, snapper is increasingly becoming a generic term for white fish. The high demand has led to a high price and the high price has led to fish fraud. A University of North Carolina class project found 17 out of 22 fish they bought labeled as red snapper were actually some other kind of snapper.
This is, of course, illegal, but it's difficult for the USDA to enforce these types of violations. Buy your fish from a trusted source and look for the red skin and eyes to distinguish red snapper from other fish.