Baked Whiting

Merluzzo al Forno

Today’s recipe comes from a half-century ago, a time when television shows were only broadcast in black and white; when a trip to the airport was something eagerly anticipated; when all (US) phones had a dial and many of those phones, being owned by Ma Bell, were rented; when music was purchased on large, black vinyl discs; and when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays lest they face the fires of eternal damnation. Yes, that long ago.

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When I think back to those days, I’m amazed at the variety of fish that found its way to our dinner table. Aside from the usual guests — i.e., baccalà (salted cod), stoccafisso (dried cod), tuna, vongole (clams), smelt, calamari (squid), perch, sepia, lumache (snails) – there were infrequent visitors but I was far too young to remember their names. Zia, my very own Encyclopedia Italiana, can’t remember their names either. So, you can well imagine my surprise when the fishmonger at the Italian market identified a type of fish in his display case as “merluzzo.” Merluzzo! I’d not heard or seen that fish in almost 50 years. I bought a couple, rushed home, and phoned my Aunt immediately.

Zia was every bit as surprised as I was. I really enjoy these phone calls and they’re why I spend so much time investigating a market’s pasta aisle, the cheese counter, the produce department, and interrogating the fishmonger. It makes my day when I uncover some treasure from long ago and then phone her with the news. To be sure, no matter the discovery, there’ll be some in a bag, a box, or a cooler the next time I come for a visit. And that dinner will be full of memories, some of which I’ll then share with you.

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Now then, before discussing the recipe, I can no longer ignore l’elefante nella stanza. Our friends from across The Pond refer to merluzzo as “hake”, whereas here merluzzo is called “whiting.” (My sources on this “side” being my fishmongers and Fabio Trabocchi’s cookbook Cucina of Le Marche.) Although I am by no means an expert, I’ve learned that although the two fish aren’t exactly the same, the names “whiting” and “hake” are used interchangeably.  For the sake of argument, henceforth I’ll call today’s fish “merluzzo”. You, then, can translate it to mean whatever you like,  be that “whiting” or “hake”.  ChgoJohn, Peace Maker.

I’m going to dispense with my normal recipe format, for this dish doesn’t need it. Merluzz’ are small fish. Scaled and gutted, the 2 pictured were about 9 inches (23 cm) long and together weighed about 8 ounces (227 g). To stuff them, you’ll need about 1/3 of a cup of the breading mixture per fish and you may wish to make more, depending upon how you’ll cook or serve your fish.

This stuffing mixture is used in a number of the Bartolini family recipes. Grandma’s Stuffed Vegetables and Grandpa’s Barbecued Shrimp are 2 that I’ve shared so far. We, also, use it to stuff calamari and again with other baked fish, the recipes for which are forthcoming.  The only difference in its composition from one dish to the next is that, with seafood, lemon juice might be added.  It’s easy enough to make. Just combine (Panko) breadcrumbs, chopped fresh parsley, a little grated or minced garlic, salt & pepper, and olive oil. If you like, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice into the mix. Learning how much olive oil to use gave me fits. I pestered Mom with questions and was forever touching Zia’s mixture to get “the feel” of it.  You do not want a breading that is sopping wet with olive oil but neither do you want it barely moist. Too wet and you’ll have a greasy dish; not wet enough and it will dry out, and possibly burn, before the dish has finished cooking. Practice makes perfect.

Once the breading is made, salt & pepper the fish, inside and out, use the breading mixture to stuff it, and add a light drizzle of olive oil. Back in The Day, Grandpa would then secure the merluzzo in a hinged grill basket and place them on his barbecue, turning them after a few minutes. When finished, they would be removed to a serving platter and brought to the table. As you can see, that’s not what I’ve done.

To bake, place the stuffed fish on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Place any excess breading on top of the fish before drizzling with oil, and then place in a pre-heated oven of 375˚F (190˚C). Bake for about 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Times may vary depending upon the oven and size of the merluzzo. Remove to a serving platter and serve immediately. That’s still not as is pictured but this is how my family baked and served merluzzo.

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One way I like to prepare them is to roast cherry/grape tomatoes with the fish. I make extra breading and use it to cover the fish. Once roasted, the resulting flavors of roasted tomato and breading are reminiscent of Grandma’s Stuffed Vegetables.

A third way to serve them is to prepare even more breading mixture and use it to as a bed and coating for the roasting fish. Once roasted, place the breading and fish atop cooked pasta that has been lightly dressed with olive oil and chopped parsley. Roasted cherry tomatoes would work here, too.

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Notes

Don’t let a fear of fish bones prevent you from trying merluzzo. The bones are all attached to the spine and the “top-side” fillet readily lifts off of the fish with your fork. Once exposed, the entire spine is then easily removed, making the “bottom-side” fillet accessible. Just be careful with the meat taken from around the gills and you shouldn’t encounter any bones while eating.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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As I’ve said, seafood is the protein of choice in Italian households on the night before Christmas. My Brodetto, or fisherman’s stew, uses a variety of seafood in a lightly seasoned tomato broth to create a very special dish which, coincidentally, is perfect for Christmas Eve. Click HERE to learn how to make this stew.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Next week’s recipe is a mystery dish, my memories of which predate even merluzzo. As such, I’ve no teaser photos for you. I can’t even guarantee that I’ll find it before next Wednesday. If I don’t, I may delay next week’s post a day or two, hoping that something turns up. Don’t you worry. I’ve another seafood recipe, all set to post, if I’m not successful. Stay tuned …

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128 thoughts on “Baked Whiting

    • Thanks, Stefan. For years, this was pretty much the only way they prepared fish and the breadcrumb mixture is used in so many of their dishes. I never realized just how often it was used until I started writing the recipes down. It was a bit of a surprise. :)

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  1. Ah, you had me confused for a while, until you explained that what you call whiting, we call hake. I wonder what you call our whiting?? :-)

    Living where we do, so close to the Mediterranean Sea, we eat lots of fish. In Spain, we have merluza which is obviously something similar to the fish you remember from childhood.

    Looks delicious, John.

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    • To further confuse matters, I’ve seen hake but was afraid to ask about it. Sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
      As far as I know, and Zia agrees, this is the same merluzzo that Grandpa bought 50 years ago. They call it whiting now for the non-Mediterranean shoppers.
      You know what, Marianne? I don’t care what it’s called. It’s one tasty fish and that’s good enough for me. :)

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  2. Chgo John Peacemaker – that did make me chuckle. You should be a diplomat. Or even a mystery detective “Inspector Bartolini” for tracking down all these amazing recipes. Enjoyed the little trip down memory lane as things were certainly still like that in my youth in London. Love the breading – we eat lots of this fish here in Spain, it´s hugely popular. In fact, last week in England I saw a programme which said that most of the Hake/Whiting/Merluza (see, I can be diplomatic too!) caught off the Cornsh coast of England is sent to Spain as the Spanish are the biggest consumers of this fish in Europe. They enjoy a good thing! Anyway, glad I have some new recipes to try now next time I buy some and looking forward to whatever it is you have in store for us next!

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    • From what I learned, Tanya, more whiting is consumed here than anything else. We get our whiting from the Atlantic off our NE coast throughout the year and, from the Pacific, two months out of the year.
      I don’t care what it’s called or where it’s from. Call it Fred. :) I’m enjoying a fish I’ve not seen in half a century. Life is good — well, except for Fred.
      You’re going to like next Wednesday’s post, if I am lucky enough to find it!

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  3. Fantastic recipe, John :) I’m still a bit confuse about the name of this fish in Spanish (Wikipedia tells me is bacalao, but I think they are wrong. I think they are small merluzas)
    I love the simplicity of it. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Yes, Giovanna, in Spanish they are merluzas and not bacalao. This sort of thing sometimes happens with food on either side of The Pond, where its names are confusing. Thank goodness the taste of the item isn’t dependent upon its name. :)

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  4. First let it be said that one of those black discs you talk about is revolving in my lounge at the moment playing my favourite Zarah Leander :) ! Yes, i have also already been to Wikipedia, ’cause I love whiting and our whiting looks almost like your whiting and I seem to remember merluzzo from my childhood too! Again I may manage to be undiplomatic [sorry!] and say Down Under I think of hake as a totally different fish and the cod Wikipedia talks about also seems strange. Your recipe however truly is beautiful comforting soulfood and aren’t you enjoying your three fishmongers :D !

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    • We here in the States, Eha, eat more whiting than any other fish. Most of it comes from the Atlantic, off our NE coast, year-round. 2 months out of the year, we get whiting from the Pacific and I bet that is the one that you’re most familiar with.
      In a moment of stupidity that I’ve regretted ever since, I tossed my albums during a move about 20 years ago. What was I thinking?
      Thanks Eha, for playing “Name that Fish” today. :) And, yes, I’m thinking of buying these fishmongers, my new BFFs, Christmas gifts. Being surrounded by so much fresh fish, they obviously have everything. What could I possibly buy them?

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  5. One thing that does always put me off eating fish is searching out the bones – your note at the end has put my mind at rest and I may be persuaded to try merluzzo using this delicious recipe. I alsy want to try stuffing squid as you suggest and I’m just off to look at your sea food stew too! And thanks for reminding me of the old days – I’d forgotten that you used to have to rent a phone. It was forbidden to buy one!

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    • My memory of merluzzo was that it was bone-laded and I didn’t care much for it, as a child, because of it. Being an adult now, I realize the it’s just a matter of taking one’s time. The fillets really do lift off the spine very easily.
      I remember a time when Europe had phones in varying colors and ours were still black. Yours were so fashion-forward. Later, in the 1980′s, AT&T was sued when it was learned that some senior citizens had been renting the very same phones for decades. My how things have changed!

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  6. Fabulous recipe for whiting and I love the look of the fisherman’s stew.. Whiting is called merlan in France. A classic way of cooking it is with the tail fins pushed through the gills, making a ring of fish. This is called “merlan en colere” (whiting in a temper) as it looks as though it’s trying to eat itself.

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  7. You must be on a first name basis with your fish monger! I would love a dish of your version plated with pasta — it looks spectacular. What a lovely idea to have Fisherman’s Stew(one of my favorites) for Christmas Eve! I am bookmarking your Brodetto recipe.

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    • Thank you. No we’re not on a first name basis — yet. He does recognize me now, though, and offers suggestions. And I am so enjoying this sudden bounty! I hope you enjoy the brodetto as much as we do.It’s not highly seasoned, allowing the various bits of seafood to have “their say.” And don’t worry about finding those exact types of seafood. Use whatever you prefer and it will be delicious, no doubt. :)

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    • Oh, I know, Marie. The first time I bought merluzzo, the fishmonger asked if I wanted them cleaned and “What about the heads?” When I said, “Leave ‘em on.” he smiled and gave me a wink. That was the start of what’s becoming a beautiful friendship. :)

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  8. Hake and whiting are definitely of the same genus, hence sharing similar names in the romance languages.
    Those baked merluzzo look fantastic and quite tame in comparison to their large hake cousins with big teeth. As Tanya said, hake is neglected in the UK and highly prized in Spain. I’m with the Spanish, it’s delicious!
    Great presentation too John :-)

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    • Thanks, MD. In an earlier post, I mentioned merluzzo and that was the first I learned of this brewing “controversy.” :) Here, whiting is our most popular fish (though the vast majority of people wouldn’t know it) and most of it comes from our NE coast along the Atlantic. These teeth may be smaller than those of the larger hake but they are nonetheless sharp. I know. One “bit” me as I was arranging the raw fish for a photo. I guess he really didn’t want to get caught and this was his last opportunity to let me know of his great displeasure. :)

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  9. I think I’d like mine served over that pasta! I can imagine the flavors together! I’ll admit, I’ve never prepared fish this way, but am willing to learn! I could probably eat the breading by itself!

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    • This is another, quite simple, way to prepare fish, Tanya. The only hard part is getting the right level of moisture in the breading — and even that’s not that hard. And once you learn that breading recipe, you can use it a number of ways. I love it atop halved onions, eggplants, and tomatoes. Roasted they are incredible!
      The “over pasta” version is my invention. When I told Zia of it, there was a silence and the she said, “Oh, that does sound good.” I knew I’d hit pay dirt! Getting her approval on a dish is, for me, like hitting the jackpot. :)

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    • It really is a flavorful little fish, ZBD, and you can prepare it whatever way you prefer. Some even fry it, though I’ve never seen it done that way. Glad to see you back around!

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  10. We tried Hake and enjoyed its delicate texture and mild flavor. I can tell you I didn’t purchase it with a head — have never been comfortable with fish eyes staring at me like a museum painting. Creepy. You are a brave soul trying to come up with recipes from memory, it is so hard to match what we remember as kids — I wonder if it is the romanticism of it that makes it so difficult? Bravo to you for the search and rescue though!

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    • Thanks, Judy. Some of these recipes aren’t that hard to replicate. Now that I’m cooking more, I recognize similar elements from one family recipe to another. And then there’s always my Aunt to query. Some, like next week’s, leave us both scratching our heads. We’ve talked enough about it and I’m just going to wing it. Stay tuned … :)

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  11. Simply beautiful John! I love the presentation of a whole fish. I’m looking forward to my Brother’s in-laws Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes. One of my favorite parties of the year!

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    • I am so envious, Dave. I remember you mentioned it last year — and I was green-eyed then, too. :)
      The Feast of the Seven Fishes is meant for a party and a great pre-cursor for Christmas. Have fun!

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  12. Love the looks of the fish, glad to see it prepared whole and with the head, the roasted tomatoes add such a festive touch. Serving with pasta is a great idea except I would most likely place the fish on the side instead of on top just in case a tiny bone escapes.

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    • Thank you, Norma. When I serve it, I, too, put the fish off to the side. I laid it atop the pasta for the photo. Once I got a good shot, I pulled it off. (Don’t tell anyone!) :)

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  13. John, can you help? I can’t seem to close my mouth!! My eyes too, something’s gone terribly wrong here! I can’t turn away from that gorgeous (!!!) platter of whatever you call it fish! (seeking help from the heavens here!) I’ll be preparing this dish this weekend! I’m thinking here on the west coast it may be hard to locate whiting, so have you a substitute in mind? (if not, I’ll ask my fishmonger.) I can barely wait for Friday! Absolutely fantastic!

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    • Thanks, Spree, for my first good chuckle of the afternoon. :)
      Whiting comes from the Atlantic, off our NE coast, or, from the Pacific. It may be easier for you to find than you think.
      I did some checking and pollock and cod are mentioned as possible substitutes. I doubt, though, that either can be bought whole. That’s fine because you can use a variation of this recipe with fillets. (I’ll be sharing this in a future post so you’re getting an exclusive!) Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Season the fillets on both sides with salt & pepper. Place the fillets, skin-side down if there, and top with a nice layer of the breading mixture. Give the fillets a light sprinkle of olive oil and place in a pre-heated 375˚ oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.
      I hope this helps, Spree. I’m here if you’ve any questions. Buon appetito!

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  14. These beautiful little fishes (and that first photo is a stunner) as well a the seafood stew are making me so hungry…and crave fish! What a lovely dish this is and it looks terrific on pasta, too. I’ve never tried Merluzzo/Hake/Whiting, but they certainly sound like a delicious fish.

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  15. hmmmm, this is filled with things I’ve never tried. It looks incredible over the pasta…..yum! Thanks for the instructions on the bones, I really think that’s the reason we never make things like this – I’m afraid of the bones. It sounds easy to avoid those problems with this one. The pictures are so good John, wow!

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    • Thanks, Sarah! My memories of this fish were that it was all bones. Now, as an adult, I realize it just takes a soft touch to lift the fillet off of the spine. Once done, the entire spine lifts off the bottom fillet. It could not be easier. Believe me. I’ve cooked some fish that, though pretty when served, were loaded with bones, totally ruining the dining experience.
      And, yeah, that pasta version was a great meal! :)

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  16. I’ve never cooked merluzzo. Or whiting. Or hake. ;-) But I certainly recall my earliest memories of it – I clearly remember seeing it in frozen form in my local supermarket (I think virtually all fish was frozen back then), and was always intrigued by it because it was packed in clear plastic, and it was the entire fish (well, except for the heads). The only fish my mom ever cooked was fillets, so it seemed so mysterious. I always asked her to cook it and she never did – probably had no clue how to. BTW, not only do I remember phones with dials, I actually remember people picking up the receive and telling the operator who answered what telephone number they wanted to reach! I never personally experienced that – I was way too young to use the phone – but that memory lives on. Anyway, super post – thanks.

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    • Thanks, John. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.
      As I recall, most of the fish that we ate were either whole or filleted and rarely, if ever, frozen. Well, except fish sticks but I don’t count them as being fish. :) Today, although I remember some other fish from back then, I’ve no idea of their names. I’ve seen similar fish, frozen, in Asian markets but am not brave enough to buy them and give ‘em a try. This could change, though.
      In our area of Michigan, only party lines were available until about 15 years ago. Caller ID only became available 2 years ago and DSL is still a pipe dream. Sometimes, going home is like taking a trip on a time machine. :)

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  17. Wow, you weren’t kidding about the great variety of fish your fish mongers have; this is great. I am going to be more experimental in the new year with fish, thanks to you John. I’ve been apprehensive to cook a whole specimen, mainly because of the eyes (freaks me out), but this one has some really tantalizing flavours. I also love roasted grape tomatoes, it just brings out the wonderful sugars in the process and makes even our bland winter tomatoes taste like a burst to summer in your mouth.
    Fisherman’s stew sounds amazing; Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails) made a fish stew once that I simply could not stop eating…I have to admit I was totally a pig, I hope she’s forgotten!

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    • Thanks, Eva. If the fish head bothers you, have you fishmonger remove it when he cleans the fish. I think that if I removed the heads, Zia would not have liked it — though she’d never say anything.
      Brodetto is very much like a French bouillabaisse, except that brodetto does not include fennel. Both have the same origins, local fisherman eating whatever was left from the day’s catch. Apparently, fennel was more readily available in France’s coastal villages than in Italy’s. :)

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    • Thank you, Lisa. I knew that this dish would hit a chord with some of my Italian blogging buddies, especially those of us that remember meatless Fridays. When you speak with your parents, please tell them that I said ‘Buon Natale!” :)

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  18. John, this dish looks stupendous! I love the breadcrumb stuffing and never would have thought about serving it atop pasta. I also like the size of the merluzzo. It’s perfect for a meal. All-in-all, this is one impressive dish. I need to find some merluzzo. :) Thanks for sharing.

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    • Merluzzo’s size make it so easy to prepare and serve, Richard. If you have the correct equipment, it’s at its best when grilled. Unfortunately, I don’t.
      As you’re probably aware, eating most seafood with cheese is frowned upon in Italy. In the South, Sicily, they will often toast seasoned breadcrumbs to serve atop a seafood pasta, just as they would grated cheese for a meat-based sauce. My serving merluzzo atop pasta is just my version of that Sicilian custom. And it’s a good one! :)

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  19. Now that looks beautiful. I’m going to have to do some exploring but my Wegmans might be a good place to start since I haven’t seen whiting in ages. So many of the small fish stores have closed & the markets only carry the popular basics. I remember though going fishing w/my father – trout being the hoped for catch. He’d bring an old fry pan & if we caught any he’d clean & cook right there by the water. Now that’s fresh fish!
    Now wait a minute though…black dial rented phones, records, black & white tv, it wasn’t all that long ago was it? And I still have all of my albums – matter of fact there’s even an old reel to reel tape recorder/player in the attic. I should bring it down just so my daughter can see what they look like.

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    • It is a shame but so many of the smaller, high quality markets are gone now. As I’ve said, I can now find fresh fish again but it was never a problem 20 or more years ago. I have a small butcher shop a couple blocks from here but he’s a vanishing breed. I can’t tell you how many other butchers have closed. Aside from the fantastic meal, how lucky for you to have such wonderful memories of fishing with your Father. How cool is that?
      Sorry, Diane, but it has been that long. It’s disheartening to go into antique & consignment shops to find objects on display from my childhood. Of course, it’s almost guaranteed that right after viewing some objet d’art from Mom’s living room, I’ll walk before a full-length mirror and be forced to accept what, only moments before, I’d denied. ((sigh))

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    • I have Lidia’s last 16 broadcasts recorded. (She’s on 3 times weekly and I’m kinda behind viewing her.) I checked and I do not have that episode. When I get it, I’ll copy it and take it to Zia. She gets a kick seeing one of “her” chefs cook as she was taught. Thanks, Greg, for the heads up and kind words.

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  20. John, you make it all look so wonderfully delicious. I am sending this to my sister, too.
    Not sure what is on the menu for our Christmas eve. When I was growing up my parents always had Oyster Stew on the 24th. No rich history like your family. The fishmongers must enjoy your questions and knowledge. Have you got them following your blog? Hope so.

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    • Thank you, Ruth, and I’m honored that you’d send this recipe to your Sister. Our Christmas Eves were special and I have many fond memories of them. Even today, without any religious dictum and whether alone or dining out with others, I still eat seafood that night. I guess it’s in my blood now. :)
      I’ve given cards to a few of them that have asked. If they show signs of actually having come here, I may even mention the name of their business. :)

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  21. John, amazing recipe and the last picture of the merluzzo and pasta is over the top delectable!!
    I thought we were still following the meatless Fridays? I guess I need to catch up my Catholic roots again :)

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    • Thanks, Judy, and serving merluzzo atop a bed of pasta is a great way to serve it.
      You’re not alone in not knowing the latest Church rulings. I had to look them up while I was writing these posts. Currently, meat may be eaten on all Fridays but those falling in Lent. There’s been some discussion about make all Fridays meatless again but I’ve no idea where those discussions are. Too bad I’m no longer a church-going member. With 3 fishmongers, I say bring on meatless Fridays. I’m ready! :)

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  22. We also have a light seafood dinner on Christmas Eve (unless we go to the pub then it’s just wine for me & bundy’s – rum – for the G.O.), and even though not Catholic we ate fish on Fridays for years & years… Whiting aka merluzzo is the G.O.’s favourite fish but I don’t cook it – too fiddly so he eats it when we go out… I’m hoping for a good proportion of seafood meals while we are away, and I might entice him to put some merluzzo on the barbie :)

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    • Thanks, EllaDee for your comments. I so wish my grill was larger so that I could barbecue some merluzzo. That is such a tasty way to prepare it. Will you listen to me? Up until several weeks ago, I hadn’t seen merluzzo in 50 years. Now I’m complaining that I cannot grill it. I had better be careful or The Fates will surely take away my fishmongers. :)

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  23. When you describe the days or black and white TV and vinyl records as half a century, it sounds SO long ago! I remember those days but I like to say 50 years. It doesn’t sound quite as long. :) Your fish dish with grandma’s stuffing on a bed of pasta looks delicious! I love fish the way you granddad use to make it, over the grill, turning it back and forth. Great article!

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    • Thanks, MJ. I understand you point but no matter how I say it, in my mind the time just flew by.
      When I explained to my Zia about serving merluzzo atop some pasta, first she agreed that it sounded good. I asked why she hadn’t thought of serving it that way and she replied that she was asking herself the same question. :) I tell you, MJ, it is a very good way to serve it and it’s “Zia approved!”.

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  24. I’m one of those people who always say they want to eat more fish (but don’t). This recipe may change that situation! It looks and sounds delicious, and it’s wonderful as always to hear all the memories brought to mind by an old family favourite recipe.

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    • Funny you should mention that, Mar. I, too, was always saying that I should cut down on my red meat consumption and eat more fish. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all I did, talk about it. I’ve noticed, though, that once I was able to get better quality seafood, over the last few months, I’m only eating a a third of the red meat I once did. Seafood has taken over that part of my diet. I’m not complaining one bit.
      When I started blogging, I never thought it would become one long trip down Memory Lane, but that’s what it has become. There’s at least one story brought to mind with every family recipe. That’s some benefit and my family experiences it, too. Just like when we all lived in the two-flat, we’re all benefiting from the Bartolini Kitchens. :)

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      • I definitely need to take a page from your book! I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I need more sources of protein in my diet (it can’t all be nuts and yogourt and legumes – well, I suppose it could, but I’d like more variety).

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  25. Gorgeous photo, mouthwatering! I love fish prepared this way, which is actually very common in Brazil – did you know that in Brazil that fish is called “merluza” with an A instead of an O, making it a feminine name instead of masculine? Go figure. The interesting twists of language, gotta love that!

    I am a bit of a wimp about cooking whole fish, Phil sometimes does it on the grill, though – I love your method of preparing this and wish I could find great quality whole fish to try it

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    • Thanks, Sally. From what I’ve learned here, the Spanish also call this fish merluza, with an “a”.
      This breadcrumb mixture was used on so many of my family’s fish dishes. Whether whole of filleted, you could count on this breading to be used somehow. So, speaking from experience, you must be enjoying some pretty great tasting fish! :)
      Merluzzo on the grill is so good. This is one of the few times I wish my barbecue was larger, so, that it could handle a grill basket. Oh, well. It’s not like baking the fish is bad. :)

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  26. So far I’ve found one fish monger in our area, but wasn’t too impressed. Going to have to do some more work to find decent fish and attempt to recreate your work here my friend. And seeing that old cioppino recipe there took me back. I believe that might have been the first post I commented on of yours.

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    • Keep looking, Jed. I cannot believe that DC doesn’t have at least one good source for fresh fish. Have you tried searching Yelp?
      You’re right. Your first comments on my blog were left with the brodetto recipe in July of ’11. You and Liz have had quite a year and a half since then, Bud. I hope the next 18 months are a little more stable for you.

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  27. Merluzzo I don’t know, but Whiting, yes! And I’ve never seen it prepared quite this way, with the stuffing. I’m not very adventurous with fish dishes that by my standard are “too fishy.” So sometimes I shy away, but for me the stuffing makes it! And I just love the way you’ve developed such a comfortable relationship with the fish mongers at your market. They must just love it that you show interest not just in cooking the fish they have selected, but to learn about it, and now to piece together some history. I’m sure they don’t have many customers who take the time for that discussion. My husband still likes to observe “no meat Fridays,” John–he says he’s “old school” and he is! :-) So you can tell your Zia that the Bartolini favorites are influencing people clear across the country–and I presume much further than that! :-)

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    • Thank you, Debra. This breading is rather common – give or take a spice or herb — throughout the Mediterranean. As I mentioned, Mom used this on a variety of dishes. It’s a handy little thing to learn to make.
      I am so glad that I was introduced to such a wide variety of fish when I was young. Now I’ve no qualms trying any seafood and will even tackle preparing it — but not sushi. That’s more of a craft and I’m all thumbs.
      Those fishmongers have been very helpful. We’ll trade methods for preparing a particular item and they’ll steer me toward the freshest of the fresh. I’ve said it before, always be polite to the person behind the counter and you will be rewarded.
      Zia will love your closing comment. After my first trip to Italy, I told Mom and Zia that their cooking was at least as good as anything that I was served, no matter where I dined. They wouldn’t hear of it. Well, now I’ve proof. Thank you for that, Debra. :)

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  28. And yet another introduction to a fish I think I’ve only vaguely heard of once before.. and definitely not one that has appeared in my kitchen or my mother’s kitchen. What a life of wonderful food you’ve had growing up, John! This little guys are so cute and aren’t they so unique in their sleek, trim shape? I think my favorite preparation is the one you’ve got there, with lots of stuffing and a little fish trying to hide underneath, just head and tail peeking out… add the roasted tomatoes and I would be in heaven! I remember those Catholic no meat rules.. and was as puzzled by them now as I was as a child! xx

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    • This is but one of the little fish we ate on Fridays, Barb. I wish I could remember more of them. Maybe over time …
      Up until the mid-60s, Catholics could not eat meat on any Friday and a couple other special days. Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday were two such days. It’s believed that Christ was killed on Good Friday and, to commemorate His sacrifice, Catholics could eat no meat. After the Council in the mid-60s, Catholics were permitted to eat meat on any day except those Fridays that occur in Lent. Now, I’ve read that some are proposing the meatless Fridays be reinstated. I hope I got this right and, if not, that someone will feel free to correct me.
      I also hope this cleared things up for you. Let me know if it hasn’t. :)

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  29. Oh yum. The fish look fabulous (I also like keeping the heads on). While the photo with the tomatoes looks gorgeous, I like the thought of eating with pasta — a great combination of textures.

    And yes, it drives me crazy sometimes trying to sort out the names of fish. There are so many varieties to start with, but then the names changes by location. I have a book that lists a lot of these names and I use it often….

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    • Thank you. Having done some traveling, I know that cuts of meat may have different names, depending upon one’s location. That’s fine. A minimal idea of a calf or pig’s body and you can easily get by. Fish, though, are an entirely different matter and I doubt that the UN, or some other governing body, will standardize the names. That book of yours sounds priceless!

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  30. Christmas has arrived! Although, I cannot get this particular fish in HK, I know that I could substitute another mild white fish. My teenagers, like most ,do not like fish unless I disguise them; you know dress them up in a different outfit so it is not identifiable. That is where your stuffing breadcrumb mixture and a side of pasta is the perfect idea for picky teenagers. Have a super weekend. BAM

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    • A side of pasta will help anything go down, BAM. I think they teach that Day One at most culinary schools. Camouflage is Day Two. And you’re right, any mild white fish could be used here and you needn’t worry if only fillets are available. If you go back up to my reply to Spree’s comment, I outline how to use this breading mixture with fillets. It’s quite simple and there’s far less chance of a bone ruining the meal for your teenagers. I hope that helps.
      You, too, have a great weekend! :)

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    • Thank you so much, Maria. This recipe is the real deal, one of the Bartolini family favorites from my youth. It’s still a treat for me prepare any of them.
      Hard to believe how many years have passed since we bought our first color TV. At the time, that was the best day ever and that TV lasted for ages. And how we took care of those albums! Time marches on but I think it’s doing a two-step now.

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  31. John, I used to go hand in hand on chilly Nova Scotia mornings with my grandmother to the fish market. It was a cavernous building on the wharf filled with mountains of ice and fish. All the fishing boats in from the first days catch would be lined up along the pier. Such smells as I remember, and a little daunting for a peanut of a girl to find all the fish staring back at me some still offering an occasional twitch. Gammy would select just the fish for our dinner and often it would appear whole such as this stuffed and delicious on the table that night. Also, I can still taste the fish and chips made out of locally caught haddock deep fried in a crunchy light batter and sent home wrapped in sheets of newspaper with golden fries.
    Your food looks amazing as always. What a wonderful dish.

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    • What wonderful memories, Susie! I can only imagine what “Little You” thought seing all of the bug-eyed fish staring at you. I bet there were times when you gripped your Grandmother’s hand like a vice. I’ve never lived close enough to the coast to go to a fish market like the one you described. I would love to see one, though — but only if I was staying somewhere with a kitchen. It would be a sin to go to a fish market that fantastic and to leave it empty-handed.
      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Susie, and thankful that you shared such great memories here.

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    • Hello, Jasline. Funny you should mention deep-frying. The last time I bought merluzzo, the fishmonger asked if I was going to deep-fry them. I’d never considered that, having been taught to bake them as I did in this post. Your Mom’s method of stuffing the fish with chili paste before frying sounds really good. I wonder if she made her own chili paste. Well, whether or not she did, I bet it was one flavorful fish. :)

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  32. This looks delicious John! I just don’t know if I can bring myself to cook a whole fish. It’s one of those tasks that seems so daunting to me. I love how they look though – so professional and delicious. This one is certainly no exception. I have to check out your stew recipe flashback too. That might be our seafood contender for Christmas Eve. Can’t wait for more too! :)

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    • You’re certainly not alone, Kristy. Any fishmonger worth his gills will clean the fish and ask if you want the head removed. It’s not a problem and you needn’t be embarrassed to ask him to do so.
      Thanks for being so complimentary all of the time and I hope you like the brodetto.

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  33. Delicious looking recipe as usual! I loved your tip about the the stuffing and how, with the proper amount of olive oil, it will help prevent the merluzzo from drying out. I’ve never cooked a fish whole before, although I’m no stranger to ordering it. :) I imagine that since these guys are so little that they might need a little help to prevent them from drying out. I also appreciate the tip on not using too much olive oil in the breading mixture. Olive oil is something that I cannot live without and always use a bunch. So, its good to know that I’ll need to be somewhat more conservative with it than usual. I don’t want the little guy slipping and sliding off of the dish!

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    • Thank you. If you’re going to try cooking and serving whole fish, merluzzo is a good place to start. It is small enough that each person can be served at least one and maybe even two, meaning there’s no need to try and create portions from one large fish at the table. It is inexpensive, too, so that if something goes wrong, you’re not going to worry about your next mortgage payment. :)
      That breading is a good thing to learn for it’s so versatile. Not only does it add some great, Mediterranean flavors to the dish, when properly browned, it can add a little crunch, too.

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    • Thank you, Celia. Everyone in the family is doing fine and final touches are being applied for holidays. I know you’ve had a houseful the passed few days so I really appreciate your taking the time to visit. I hope their visit went well and I look forward to hearing all about it in 2013. Have a wonderful time until then.

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  34. Your dish truly looks delicious. Just to add to the discussion, my markets sell hake all the time but not whole. They do sell whole fillets, which are large. Maybe New Englanders keep the large fish for ourselves and ship the small ones. LOL.

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    • Good one, Karen! I have seen large hake fillets, too, and that’s what’s so confusing about this for me. When I saw those fillets, I really did think the fishmonger got it wrong until I saw “merluzzo” translated as “whiting” in that Le Marche cookbook. I’ve decided to leave the matter alone now. I’ll be fine until this market closes and I have to ask for merluzzo somewhere else. No telling what I might get.
      Thank you for always being so complimentary, Karen — and for ending my day with a good chuckle. :)

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  35. You’ve made me feel so old John, because I clearly remember all of those times and even though I was ‘downunder’ they were just the same. I too remember fish on Fridays (even though we weren’t Catholic) and of course Christmas Eve was always never meat. Love your nostalgia cooking and looking forward to your mystery recipe xx

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    • And hearing someone younger than myself say that they feel old makes me feel ancient! Enough with that kind of trip down Memory Lane. Neither one of us needs it. :)
      The Mystery Fish will be revealed in less than an hour…

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  36. Pingback: Eel in the Style of Le Marche — Anguille alla Marchigiana | from the Bartolini kitchens

  37. I just can’t take my eyes off that first picture and coming from someone who is not even into fish that is saying something!
    I am trying to include more fish into our diet and this looks perfect the only problem is I am not sure I can find Merluzzo here, any suggestions on substitutes?

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    • Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Sawsan. You might try using pollock or cod in place of merluzzo. I doubt, though, that you’ll find a whole fish but that’s OK. You can use this breading with fillets, too. In fact, I’ll be posting a recipe for it sometime soon. Here’s how to do it. Make the breading mixture as indicated above. Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Season the fillets on both sides with salt & pepper. Place the fillets, skin-side down if there, and top with a nice layer of the breading mixture. Give the fillets a light sprinkle of olive oil and place in a pre-heated 375˚ oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. It’s quick and easy, Sawsan, and the breadcrumbs give the fish a little bit of texture, to go along with the flavors they bring.

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    • Thank you, Ambrosiana. My family used this breading on just about every fish they ever baked, broiled, or grilled. Once I learned how to make it, I started using it on everything, too. It not only tastes good but it’s a nice reminder of home. :)

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  38. Pingback: What I did on my Spring Vacation. (The short answer: I ate.) | from the Bartolini kitchens

  39. This is really “old school”, Cecile. In fact, I bet Zia hasn’t seen merluzzo in heaven-only-knows how many years. I think i got a bigger kick out of bringing them to her than she did eating them!

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  40. Pingback: Whole Fish Stock (with Whiting a.k.a Silver Hake a.k.a Lake Trout, Heads and All!) | BaltimOregon to Maine

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