Whole Fish with Herbs & Lemon
I did not grow up eating whole fish. We would buy whole fish but either the fish monger or someone at home would gut, clean, and cut up the fish into steaks. The usual ways of preparation were to pan fry or stew the fish in a curry. Those remain my favorite ways to eat fish but in the last few years, I have started preparing fish whole. It was intimidating at first - how do I pick the right fish, how to I clean it, and what are the best ways to cook it in my home? It always seemed like a restaurant dish, best left to the professionals. But after I bought and cooked my first whole fish a few years ago, I realized that it’s in fact one of the simplest techniques. You just have to get a few basics right and you are good to go. A whole fish comes together so quickly, this can be a great weeknight dish for yourself or for any surprise guests!
Picking - Selecting the best fish will depend on your palette. If you are don’t cook a lot of fish and don’t like things too fishy, start with branzino, red snapper, or white fish. If you are a fish lover, branch out into pompano or mackerel. Go to any seafood market and ask the fish monger which are freshest and select based on your palette. If the eyes look cloudy or it smells “too fishy”, it’s probably not fresh.
Cleaning - I do not want fish guts in my home so I always ask the fish monger to gut, clean, and scale the fish at the store.
Preparing - Score the fish a couple of times and season the fish generously with salt and pepper to start. Then stuff the fish with your aromatics - herbs, lemon, garlic, chilies, ginger, or whatever else you’re in the mood for. Oil the fish on both sides to help it brown in the oven or on the grill.
Serving - I love whole, crispy fish with a big citrus-y salad. You can leave the fish on the baking tray or move to a serving platter. You can fillet it on to plates or serve it whole and let each person pick through it on their own.
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Prepare the fish. Take your gutted and scaled whole fish and place on a baking sheet. Make two diagonal slashed on the fish on each side, four total. If your fish is larger, make three. Next, generously salt and pepper the inside cavity of the fish. Stuff the cavity with two to three thick lemon slices, cut in half. Next, stuff the cavity with 2-3 sprigs of thyme or rosemary; the herbs should be bursting out of the fish. Next, drizzle a teaspoon of oil per each side of the fish and coat the fish well. Lastly, season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Place the fish in the preheated oven for 20 mins, rotating the sheet 180 degrees at the 10 min mark to ensure even cooking. Once the fish is cooked, turn on the broiler on high and move the baking sheet to the top-most rack in your oven. Broil for 2 mins.
Remove the fish from the oven and squeeze the lemon half all over and garnish with chopped parsley. Let the fish rest for 5 mins. Serve on the baking sheet or a serving platter; eat the fish straight off of the bone!