The preparation of this fish is grilled, but because of the pea-tendril stuffing, it has the moistness of a steamed fish. The fried herbs and garlic add crunch, reminiscent of the fish’s crispy skin, and the preserved lemon peel provides a great flavor that you just can’t get from anything else. Ask your butcher to debone the fish in the following way: butterflied from the spine so the belly is attached. Make sure the fish is clean of bones but remains whole and intact.
- Using a sturdy, sharp vegetable peeler, peel the colorful zest from the lemons in approximately 1-inch-wide strips, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith beneath. Squeeze the juice from 3 of the lemons into a small cup or bowl and set aside.
- Put the zest in a small saucepan. Add water just to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water reaches a boil, drain the zest in a colander and return it to the saucepan. Again add water to cover and repeat the boiling and draining process once or twice, until the lemon peels are pliable and no longer bitter.
- In a bowl, combine the cooked zest, salt, and sugar and toss to coat. Add the thyme and peppercorns and toss to mix well. Add the reserved lemon juice and stir gently. Transfer the mixture to a ½-pint mason jar or other airtight glass container. Press down gently to make sure all of the lemon peel is submerged in the liquid. Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature until the zest is slightly translucent, about 24 hours.
- Store tightly covered at room temperature for up to 1 month or in the refrigerator pretty much forever. Always rinse before use.
- To make the herb confetti, in a small pot of boiling water, blanch the sliced garlic for 1 minute. Drain and pat dry completely.
- Line a plate with paper towels.
- In a saucepan, heat the grapeseed oil to 250°F. Fry the garlic in the oil until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the prepared plate to drain. Increase the heat until the oil reaches 275°F, then fry the chile slices until crispy and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add to the plate. Raise the temperature once more until the oil reaches 350°F, then fry the herbs until crisp, 30 to 40 seconds, and add to the plate. Season everything with salt and set aside.
- Season the inside of the fish with salt, pepper, and the chopped preserved lemon. Stuff the fish with the pea tendril leaves and olive oil and press to close. Then, season the outside with salt and pepper.
- Build a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium. If using a charcoal grill, move the coals a bit to one side. Make sure your grill is clean and brush the grates with oil.
- Place the fish on the grill with the head near the warmer part and the tail pointed toward the cooler spot. Grill the fish on one side until the exposed flesh turns from translucent to white, 6 to 8 minutes. Don’t touch it or try to move it too early or it may stick. Using a fish spatula, carefully flip the fish to the other side and continue cooking until it’s fully cooked and the flesh is opaque, about 6 minutes longer. Meanwhile, place the lemon halves facedown on the grill until warmed through.
- Transfer the fish to a large platter and top it with a heaping pile of the herb confetti. Squeeze the grilled lemon over all and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Bestia by Ori Menashe & Genevieve Gergis with Lesley Suter, copyright © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography credit Nicole Franzen © 2018