Slow-Roasted Snapper with Olives and Tomato Vierge

Main Course

Recipe courtesy of Secrets of the Southern Table by Virginia Willis

Serves 6

From the cookbook: Sauce Vierge, which translates from French to “virgin sauce” is a modern classic French sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato, chopped herbs, and spices such as coriander seed. This elegant recipe, inspired by one of Jason’s [Stanhope, executive chef at FIG restaurant in Charleston, SC] menu items, might be more typical of the South of France than the Southern United States, but it’s Southern just the same.
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 6 basil leaves and stems (about ½ ounce), coarsely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes (about 1 ½ pounds), cored, seeded, and diced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 firm white fish fillet, such as snapper, grouper, or salmon, cut 1½ inches thick (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 lemon, very thinly sliced
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup green olives, preferably Castelvetrano, smashed and pitted

Author’s note: This recipe features Sicilian Castelvetrano olives, which are best for eating instead of pressing into oil. These olives are known for their rich, buttery texture and meaty, green flavor. They are less briny and sweeter than many other olives and can often be found at Costco, Whole Foods, and gourmet specialty stores and online.

Slow-Roasted Snapper with Olives and Tomato Vierge 

Click image to enlarge



For the Tomato Vierge: Place the coriander seeds in a dry saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the seeds are lightly toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and lightly crush, or place on a clean cutting board and crush with the bottom of a skillet or a second saucepan. (You don't need to crush them into a fine powder, just make sure most of the seeds are opened.) Transfer the crushed seeds back to the saucepan. Add¾ cup of the olive oil, the garlic, and the basil and heat over medium heat until you see a slight bubble in the oil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let steep for 1 hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the tomatoes, shallot, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat the oven to 250°F.

Place the fish in a shallow baking dish and coat it with some of the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Scat­ter the lemon slices, thyme, bay leaves, and olives around the fish. Bake until the fish is very tender and slightly opaque, 40 to 60 minutes. ( The lower temperature means the fish will take much more time than the standard 10 minutes per inch of thickness, and will not dry out in the process.)

Because a side of salmon typically isn’t as thick as a side of snapper or grouper, I have found that the salmon will take about 40 minutes and a thicker fillet like grouper requires closer to 60 minutes.

Leave the fillet in the baking dish or use a spatula to carefully transfer the fish and olives to a platter. Discard the thyme stems and bay leaves and spoon the Tomato Vierge over the fish. Serve immediately.


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