How to Cook a Whole Fish


Cooking a whole fish can be intimidating, but it is quite easy. By starting with a fresh fish and following a few simple tips, you can make a delicious and quick entree that will impress your friends and family.

Things You'll Need

  • Whole fish, gutted, with gills, fins and tail removed Sea salt 2 lemons Fresh herbs of your choice Olive oil Butcher string Filet knife Grill Charcoal (if using charcoal grill) Food thermometer Large metal spatula for removing fish Large plate

Prepare the Fish

  • Purchase a whole fish from a fishmonger or from your local butcher. It is best to buy from someone who sells a lot of whole fish so that you can be sure they will know what they are doing. The fish should be fresh: Look for a fish with bright red gills and no fishy smell.

  • Have the butcher gut and scale the fish, removing both the gills and the fins.

  • Once at home, rinse the fish to remove any remaining residue and dry completely inside and out.

  • Using sea salt, sprinkle the inside of the fish in the cavity where the guts were, and over the skin.

  • Slice a lemon, and place the slices inside the cavity along with sprigs of fresh herbs such as rosemary, dill, fennel, basil or thyme. You also can combine the herbs.

  • Use butcher string to tie the fish securely. Tying it in three or four places, depending on the fish's size, will help hold the cavity closed and keep the seasonings inside.

  • Using a sharp knife (a filleting knife is good for this) make deep cuts through the thickest part of the fish down to the bones to allow the fish to cook more quickly.

  • Brush the fish with olive oil on both sides and lightly sprinkle it with flour.

Cooking the Fish

  • Fill your grill with charcoal, making a bed directly under the spot where you will cook the fish. Light the coals so that they will be burning down while you prepare the fish; the fish should be cooked over medium hot coals. If you have a gas grill, pre-heat the grill to medium-hot.

  • Brush the grill with olive oil and place the fish on the grill directly over the bed of coals.

  • Close the cover and cook the fish over medium-hot direct heat, carefully turning the fish over when the first side is browned. The whole cooking process should take about 35 to 40 minutes, until a food thermometer placed into the thickest part of the fish reaches 135 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Using a large metal spatula, carefully lift the fish off the grill and place on a dish. Cut the string and serve with lemon wedges.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can also cook the fish in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit using a cooling rack placed over a cookie sheet to catch any drips, or in a broiler pan. Follow the same directions for time and fish temperatures, checking the fish periodically for doneness because all ovens are different.
  • Be careful to ensure that you keep the fish cool on the way from the store to home to prevent spoilage. Plan to cook the fish the same day that you purchase it for maximum freshness.

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  • Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons, Joshua Thompson
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