How to Grill Whole Fish

By Rebecca Gardon

snapper scored on grillWhy cook with whole fish? For one thing, it’s delicious. The same reason you roast a whole chicken or grill a T-bone steak is the same reason you should cook with whole fish: the skin and bones of the fish keep the flesh moist and flavorful. Secondly, whole fish is typically the more economical choice. Lastly, it’s fun to eat and makes for an exciting presentation.

One of our top whole fish picks is Pacific snapper (Lutjanus peru), also known as huachinango. Highly prized as table fare and an essential export product of Mexico, this true snapper is typically found along the west coast of Baja and southern Sea of Cortez and offers a great, firm texture and sweet, nutty flavor.

Any number of cooking methods will work with whole fish, but we prefer grilling. Not only is it simple, it imparts the most flavor. Follow these easy steps to a winning, healthy meal in no time!

  1. Start with the freshest fish possible. Whole fish is typically sold scaled, cleaned and gutted. If you’re unsure, ask your fishmonger.
  1. Rinse fish, pat with a paper towel, and place on cutting board. Using an extra sharp knife, start behind the gill plate and slice skin at an angle until you just hit the bone. Repeat every 1 ½”. Optionally, you may also make cross slices in the opposite direction. Turn over fish and repeat the pattern. Known as scoring, this technique helps distribute heat evenly.
  1. Lay the fish across the palm of your hand to expose the sliced flesh. Sprinkle with salt and pepper or your choice of seasonings. Repeat on other side. Laying the fish out like this ensures seasoning gets inside, not just on the skin. You may also wish to tuck some fresh herbs or citrus slices into the slices.
  1. Coat fish with about 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Be sure to also clean your grill and brush it with oil right before cooking!
  1. Place fish on hot grill. DO NOT MOVE IT for 3-4 minutes! If you move it too early you will rip the skin, lose flesh and basically make a mess of things. Fish is ready to be flipped when the skin no longer sticks to the grill. Slide an oiled spatula underneath, gently turn the fish over, and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  1. Proceed to enjoy one of life’s simplest pleasures. Remember, eating whole fish is just like eating roasted chicken. Delight in the crispy skin and work around bones with a fork and knife, chopsticks, or our favorite – your fingers!

Watch Tommy Gomes give a brief overview of how to grill a whole snapper:

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