Roasted red snapper 
with lemon-parsley gremolata
Roasted red snapper with lemon-parsley gremolata Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Michael Shrader (Urban Union)

The Challenger: Ben Sheagren (Hopleaf)

The Ingredient: Curly parsley

“You want the truth, or you want me to lie?” Michael Shrader said when asked about curly parsley. The truth, he said, is that “it’s just not really necessary. There’s not a whole lot of uses for it.”

There’s debate about whether Italian parsley (also called flat-leaf parsley) is superior in flavor to its curly cousin. Italian parsley is often said to taste stronger, though according to Harold McGee, who writes about the chemistry of cooking, that’s only true when it’s young. It loses flavor as it matures, he notes in On Food and Cooking, whereas the curly variety develops more “parsley character” as it grows.

The relative similarity of the two varieties notwithstanding—”they both taste the same,” Shrader said—curly parsley has been somewhat reviled by chefs and serious cooks for years. That may be a reaction to its former ubiquity as a garnish—though Mark Bittman praises it in How to Cook Everything. Shrader remembers seeing it in seafood restaurants in San Francisco while growing up: “that shit was on every plate.”

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Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Shrader made a lemon gremolata with the parsley, putting it on a whole roasted snapper. The dish is in line with the simple preparations he generally does at Urban Union, he said, which are meant to pair with wine—anything too bold is likely to overpower it. “A lot of chefs will make a dish and then try to pair a wine with it,” he said. “I’ve always found that backwards.” Shrader prefers to pick a wine and tailor the dish to match it.

For the snapper with parsley gremolata, however, he reversed his usual process, choosing a Gavi, a Tuscan white wine made from the Cortese grape, to match it. The wine works well with seafood because it has fruit, body, and good acidity, Shrader said.

Urban Union's chef Michael Shrader
Urban Union’s chef Michael ShraderCredit: Julia Thiel

Shrader scored the flesh of the fish in a cross-hatch pattern to help it cook more evenly, put it in a preheated pan with oil (the preheating prevents the fish from sticking), and stuck it in a wood oven. For the gremolata, he grated lemon zest—it’s more wine-friendly than lemon juice because it’s not so acidic, he said—and combined it with chopped curly parsley, grated garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, and a little lemon juice.

Fish with gremolata is one of Shrader’s favorite dishes, he said, because it’s so simple. He’s used parsley as one of the herbs in his gremolatas before, but not as the only one; he said the “herbaceousness and grassiness” of the parsley worked well, though. “It’s really nice with the wine.”

Who’s next:

John Manion of the soon-to-open La Sirena Clandestina, working with smelt. “It’s an underappreciated fish,” Shrader said. “It’s hard to get diners to buy into smelt, but it’s a really good product.”

Roasted red snapper with parsley-lemon gremolata

1.5-pound whole red snapper, dressed and scaled

1/4 bunch curly parsley, picked (no stems)

1 whole lemon

1/2 clove garlic

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Liberally coat the bottom of a large nonstick pan with olive oil and place in a wood oven or regular oven prehated to 375 degrees until oil is smoking hot (about 4 min). Season fish liberally with salt, place in pan, and roast for about ten minutes (in a regular oven), then flip over and cook for another ten minutes.

Chop parsley medium fine. Microplane the zest off of the entire lemon. Microplane the half garlic clove. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Add olive oil and salt to taste, then the juice of half a lemon.

Lay fish on a large platter, spoon gremolata over entire fish. Serve with sea salt and the other lemon half.