Whole roasted fish might seem a little daunting if you’ve never tried it before, but this is a perfect starter recipe. Cilantro, mint, lemongrass, lime zest, and ginger are blended into a thick Thai pesto that flavors the fish inside and out.
Game plan: If you have time, complete the recipe through step 2 up to 2 1/2 hours ahead (just keep the fish covered in the refrigerator)—the flavors will permeate the fish even more.
Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine cilantro, mint, garlic, jalapeño, lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce, and lime zest in a food processor and pulse until evenly puréed. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of the peanut oil and process until mixture resembles a thick pesto, about 2 minutes.
Rinse fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Season all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread herb mixture inside fish and close securely with butcher’s twine or toothpicks.
Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil long enough to enclose the fish and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the foil with remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Place fish on the foil and fold the foil over (don’t close too tightly though; leave some room around the fish). Roast fish in the oven until flesh is white and firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.
Beverage pairing:Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling, New Zealand. The combination of the fish with the exotic and strongly flavored pesto favors a wine that will complement rather than contrast with the dish. When it comes to Asian food, Riesling is always a good bet, and this one from New Zealand has all the verve and zip of a European Riesling but brings some bright, fresh Pacific Rim fruit flavor as well.