Braised Whole Croaker Duglere

4 servings

In this recipe, the whole fish is braised as if the fish were filleted, except that it is basted several times after it goes into the oven to help the fish cook evenly. This can also be done in an ovenproof saute pan.

If you're being informal and your guests know what they are doing, let them do the filleting at the table, as noted below. Recipe adapted from "Fish & Shellfish," by James Peterson (William Morrow, 1996).

4 whole large croakers, cleaned and scaled

3 shallots, finely chopped (may substitute 1 medium onion, finely chopped)

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup dry white wine

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse the croakers and dry them thoroughly with paper towels.

Sprinkle the bottom of an ovenproof ceramic oval or square gratin dish with the chopped shallots and tomatoes.

Arrange the croakers over the shallots and tomatoes, then pour the white wine over the fish.

Set the dish on the stove over medium heat and cook until the wine comes to a simmer, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the dish to the oven and bake, basting every 3 minutes, for about 10 minutes per-inch thickness of the fish. (Test doneness by sticking a sharp knife into the croakers to see if the flesh pulls away easily from the bone.)

When the croakers are done, transfer them to individual plates and set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid.

In a small pan on medium-high heat, heat the cooking liquid until it reduces and is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the lemon juice. If desired, whisk in the butter in 2 or 3 additions just until incorporated. Remove from heat, and spoon evenly over the plates, or pass the sauce warm at the table.

To serve, place the plates of croaker to each guest's left, along with a clean, heated plate in front of each guest. Provide an extra spoon for filleting.

Per serving (without the butter): 195 calories, 28 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 163 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Jill Grisco; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

Pan-Fried Spots

4 servings

Simple preparation: The author suggests scoring the fish three times on both sides before it's coated with cornmeal. Adapted from "In Pursuit of Flavor," by Southern cooking expert Edna Lewis (University Press of Virginia, 1988).

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt, plus additional for seasoning the spots

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional for seasoning the spots

4 whole spots, gutted and scaled, about 23/4 pounds total

1/2 cup unsalted butter or lard, for frying

1 large lemon, cut into 4 wedges

Have ready a platter lined with paper towels.

In a large shallow dish, mix the cornmeal with the salt and pepper. Season the fish with additional salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture, shaking off any excess coating.

In a skillet large enough to hold all the fish, heat the butter or lard on medium-high heat until it is very hot. Add the spots and cook about 10 minutes, turning once. Transfer the spots to the dish lined with paper towels. Serve hot with the lemon wedges on the side.

Per serving: 563 calories, 61 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 203 mg cholesterol, 8 g saturated fat, 674 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com