Snapper Recipes


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Two of the things I get asked most when it comes to fish are a) snapper recipes, and b) general tips on how to cook red snapper. You’ll get both here.

Seared red snapper with cherry tomatoes and corn
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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First, you should know that, more or less, all snapper and snapper-like fish cook the same in kitchen. Not just red snapper, but all the other snappers as well, like mangrove, mutton, beeliners, cubera, etc.

As you can see in this article, there are nearly 20 genuses of snappers, let alone individual species. Add to this the Atlantic black seabass and the myriad Pacific rockfish and you have a dizzying array of bass-like fish that are, more or less, interchangeable.

That’s not to say there are exceptions. One is the China rockfish of the Pacific, whose meat has an unusually fine grain, or the true red snapper, which, like the cubera, can grow very large. And once you get a large fish, say 15 pounds or larger, you can get different cuts off it instead of just a fillet.

All snapper are good to eat in that they are all lean, low-fat fish with a mild flavor and edible skin. I love skin-on snapper because, once scaled, you can eat the skin of a snapper and it will taste a bit like a crispy potato chip.

Let’s start with the first decision: Whole or fillets?

It is always your call, but I generally cook any snapper or snapper-like fish whole if it’s a foot long or smaller. Think about your frying pan or wok, and if the fish fits, keep it whole. You will want to scale your fish and remove the gills, or have a fishmonger of your fishing guide do this for you. Gills left in a fish impart a bitter flavor to the surrounding meat.

vermillion rockfish ready for cooking
Photo by Hank Shaw

The reason for this is because your meat yield is terrible with smaller fish. Their ribcages are strong and large, and you tend to lose the meat around the ribs, and if you are skilled enough to remove it with the fillet, it is so much thinner than the rest of the fillet that it overcooks.

Besides, as every fish lover knows, whole fish just taste better. Oh, and if you can stand it, leave the head on. Why? It keeps the meat way moister than if you remove the head.

You can cook snapper more or less any way you want. Whole snapper or similar fish are good steamed, fried, grilled, barbecued or baked. The only way they are not very good is smoked. Here are some sample whole snapper recipes.

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A grilled whole fish over the coals.

Simple Grilled Whole Fish

How to grill any medium-sized whole fish, snapper or otherwise.

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whole fried fish

Hmong Style Crispy Fish

How to fry a whole small snapper, in this case with a Southeast Asian flair.

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Overhead view of Chinese crispy fried carp recipe

Sichuan Crispy Fried Carp

This is originally a carp recipe, but it works really well with small snapper.

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beeliner snappers in a basket
Photo by Hank Shaw

Big snapper have one other often overlooked treat: snapper throats. This is basically the collar of the fish plus some of the belly meat. Here’s a video on how to pull a snapper throat. And here’s how I cook fish collars, including snapper throats.

grilled fish collars recipe

Grilled Fish Collars

Grilled fish collars are dynamite with large snappers!

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Snapper Fillets

That leaves fillets. Skinless or skin-on, each has its own value. If you have a scaled snapper fillet, I generally lean toward frying it. Snapper and its cousins all fry very well, because the meat is firm, lean, and mild on all species. Snapper is a largely blank canvas you can paint with whatever culinary brush you desire.

Little fillets are fun fried whole, while you’ll want to cut your larger fillets into larger pieces. I generally cut as one piece the portion that was above the ribs, and then the tail portion as another piece. The larger the fillet, the more pieces. Really big red snapper you can chunk and fry in bites.

Another great way to cook skinless snapper fillets is to poach them in broth or butter and then flake the meat. Flaked out, they make great fish cakes, or a filling for empanadas, or tamales or an English fish pie. You can also make a nice cold fish salad, either “tunafish” style or by adding the flaked snapper to a typical Greek salad of cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes.

Skin-on fillets are best pan-seared, grilled or broiled. If you have the skin, you want it crispy, and that means high heat.

One side note on really big snapper: They make a fantastic fish on the half shell, like what you do with big bull redfish. In this case, you leave the scales on the skin and cook the fish skin side down only, using the scales and skin as a shield against the fierce heat of the grill.

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fried snapper bites

Fried Red Snapper Bites

Maybe the best thing you can make when you get a giant snapper, these fried bites make a fantastic appetizer.

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pan seared red snapper on a plate with roasted cherry tomatoes.

Pan Seared Red Snapper with Cherry Tomatoes

Pan-seared red snapper with a summery salad that features roasted cherry tomatoes.

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Southern fish and grits, made with tripletail

Southern Fish and Grits

A Southern classic that works very well with any snapper.

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butter poached fish on the plate

Butter Poached Fish

Snapper works well when you butter poach it, because it’s so lean. A great way to add richness.

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A plate of sweet and sour fish

Sweet and Sour Fish

A Chinese classic that you absolutely need to try.

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grilled fish on the half shell

Grilled Redfish on the ‘Half Shell’

Originally a redfish recipe, this works very well with larger snapper.

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Two hands holding a fried fish sandwich

A Simple Fried Fish Sandwich

Sometimes simple is best. Do this with smaller snapper fillets.

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Thai fish curry with halibut in a bowl

Thai Fish Curry

A Thai style fish curry that lends itself to snapper because it’s so firm.

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red snapper on ice
Photo by Hank Shaw

This should get you started. If you are looking for even more ideas, browse my page of general fish recipes. Many of them work really well with all sorts of snapper.

One last word. Don’t toss that carcass! All snapper species make a fantastic fish stock, because they are so lean. Just be sure to remove the gills before simmering gently.

What do you use your stock for? As a soup base for a fish stew, or to make an ethereal fish risotto the way they do in Venice.

Fish Stock Recipe

How to Make Fish Stock

Classic, basic fish stock that will become a part of your post-fishing routine. Yep, it’s that good.

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Southern fish stew

Southern Fish Stew

A classic Southern stew perfect for red snapper, which is what I used here.

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fish risotto recipe

Fish Risotto

Fish risotto the way they make it in Venice. This is fantastic with freshly made snapper stock.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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