How to cook a whale

Week of March 12 – March 18, 2018

(Last week we introduced you to the superb cooking of of Julie Stoecklein, this week we are stepping aside for the fine cooking, gardening and decorating of John Welsh and Cyndi Ferranto)

chicken piccante

Monday:                              Chicken Sauce Piquant and Rice

salmon and greens

Tuesday:                              Kale, Avocado, Salmon Salad

pasta with bacon

Wednesday:                      Orecchiette with Bacon, Lemon and Cream (Home Cook)

Father Drew gang

Some of the gang from Thursday:  Tom, Father Drew, Beez, Katie and Kathy


Father Drew Seminar for the Suburbs / Spiced Goat Cheese with                                              Crudités, Turkey Tettrazini (from The Cornerstone Restaurant),                                                House Salad, Red Velvet Cake (Tim Hughes), pastries and cookies                                              from Kate and Dave and Hilda.

Friday:                                  Shrimp and Polenta  (New York Times)


At Old Westminster Winery:  Beez, Me, Hilda, Tim, John and Cindy


Drove to John and Cindy’s in Uniontown, MD:  Picnic at Westminster Winery / Dinner at John and Cindy’s:  Roast Red Snapper with salad and rice and John’s Lemon Cake



Brunch with French Press Coffee, John’s Brobdingnagian Omelet and Cindy’s Jelly

Dinner back in the ‘burgh:  Spring Pea Soup with Roasted Radishes

raw snapper

The giant red snapper stared up from the platter, one large black eye seeming to follow us wherever we moved.  “We” were John Welsh and myself and we were thinking about how to turn this leviathan into dinner.  In the recipe below, we’ll share with you how we did that.  But first, some notes on a good week and one of the finest weekends we can remember.

On Thursday, Father Drew Morgan gave a talk on the various Resurrection narratives in the Gospels.  Some good friends joined us and we had a light meal and some great conversation afterwards.

On Saturday, the Tim and Hilda and Beez and I headed to Uniontown, Maryland, enjoying Hilda’s fine, but unique driving through the beautiful, snow-covered countryside.  John Welsh and Cindy Ferranto live in D.C., but on most weekends head, with their dogs, Penny and Jackson, to their house in beautiful, historic Uniontown, Maryland.  The house is spectacular, combining elegant rooms with a cozy, rustic kitchen (with a large fireplace any cook would covet), and an acre or two of plantings (Cindy is a landscape architect), patios, pergolas, barns and birds.


In Cindy and John’s Kitchen

John and Cindy had arranged a picnic at Old Westminster, a local winery with very good wines.  John’s mushroom soup and Westminster’s ‘Limestone’ will be forever conjoined in my personal food heaven.  It was after the winery, and after a nap in their elegant front parlor, and either just after or just before our first cocktails, that we began to contemplate the fish.  We decided on a sort of Mediterranean seasoning – John and Cindy grow their own peppers and their jalapenos with some parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil gave us a nice paste for seasoning the fish.  But this fish was nearly a six-pounder.  Our concern was how to cook it through without having it fall apart – we wanted to serve it whole.  You’ll see our solution, along with the recipe, below.

The beauty of this weekend for me, lay in not cooking, but simply enjoying.  When you are ambitious about your cooking, as I tend to be, you can never enjoy it simply – you’re always grading yourself or thinking about ways to improve things.  And when you eat at a restaurant knowing that you’re going to write about it, the same sort of standing outside the experience   separates you from simple enjoyment or even simple dislike.  But when you eat someone else’s home cooking the pleasure is unalloyed.  Your task is simply to enjoy – and perhaps help with the dishes afterward.


John and Cindy keep bees and bottle their own honey.  ‘Jonas Crumbacker’ was the name on a metal plate affixed to the house.  John told me Crumbacker’s profession, but I forget.

That pretty well describes our experience at John and Cindy’s . . . simple enjoyment.  We sampled their own honey, Cindy’s jelly, and on Sunday, after a fine mass at St. John’s in Westminster, one of John’s Brobdingnagian omelets.  John’s story-telling, Cindy’s explanation of what they’ve done with their wonderful home, and the never-ending dialogue between Beez and Hilda, along with Tim’s and my realization that we were lucky to be tagging along for all of this, rounded out a perfect weekend.

The dogs seemed to like us, and we didn’t break anything – so we’re hoping to go back.


cooked snapper


How to Cook a Whale – 5 lb. Plus Fish Cooking

The issue with cooking this most delicious of fishes whole is that it is flaky and can break apart when you turn it over – as you must to cook it evenly.  So, we decided to cook it upright, as if it were swimming in the oven.  To keep it upright, we spread the belly flaps to give it a base and used some crumbled aluminum foil keep it stable.  A fish this size takes 30 to 45 minutes at fairly high heat (425 F) to cook.  NOTE:  These temperatures are for a fish that is cold – which is how most of us get our fish.  If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a just-caught snapper, you will not need to cook it as long.

Timing:                        About 1 hour, with prepping and seasoning the fish

Ingredients:                                         Feeds 6 or more

5-6 pound Red Snapper, gutted and scaled, top and side fins removed, but with head and tail attached

You can use whatever seasoning you prefer – we used the following to create a sort of Caribbean seasoning:  Jalapeños, garlic, parsley or cilantro, salt and pepper – and a little red pepper, if you like some heat.


Heat oven to 425 F

Make seasoning paste:  Mince the peppers, garlic, parsley or cilantro and mix well with salt and pepper, red-pepper flakes and olive oil to create a sort of paste.

Cut three slices into each side of the fish – cutting down not quite to the backbone.  Rub the fish all over with the paste and work it well into the slits.  Rub the fish all over with olive oil.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the fish upright on the sheet by splaying the belly flaps open (you’re going to have to force them some) and using more foil, crumpled, to keep it upright.


Place the fish in the oven and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, until the fish flakes easily.


Lay the fish on its side and cut to the backbone, just behind the gills and slide the knife to the tail, removing the entire filet.  Do the same with the other side.  AND DON’T FORGET to pick the excellent bits of fish from the cheeks and the collar of the fish.

Serve with lemon wedges and/or John Welsh’s Mango Salsa.

snapper head on

On the whole, this snapper would rather be in Philadelphia