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If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and been brave enough to order a whole fish, complete with head and tail, you know that you are in for a treat. It’s moist, succulent and (most likely) cooked perfectly - a far departure from the dry or overcooked fish that can find it’s way on to the daily specials at restaurants.
But what’s good at the restaurant isn’t always possible for the home cook, right? Wrong. You don’t have to be Eric Ripert or have worked in the kitchen of your local seafood shack to make perfectly cooked fish - all you need is some heat (oven, grill, steam basket), a few ingredients and some know-how and you too can be impressing guests with your “professional” cooking skills.
So, how do you do it? Follow the steps below:
Here’s what you'll need:
● One small whole fish (a two-pound fish will feed two to three people; ours was farm-raised striped bass, but you could buy snapper, catfish, branzino, or a small salmon; it should come already scaled and gutted)
● Olive Oil
● Salt and Pepper
● One Lemon
● A couple of fresh rosemary sprigs
● Paper towels
● Rack or aluminum foil
● Baking sheet
Here’s what to do:
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (it will take at least 20 minutes to warm up).
2. Rinse the fish inside and out in the sink, and pat it dry with paper towels.
3. Cut off the bottom back fin, then stick your knife inside the fish’s belly where it has been gutted and slice it open a little more by penetrating deeper and extending the cut toward the tail.
4. Place the rack inside the baking sheet and lay the fish on top of it. If you have no rack, cover the baking sheet in aluminum foil and lay the fish on that. (The bottom of the fish will get a little dried out this way, because it’ll be in direct contact with the hot pan.) Drizzle oil over the fish, inside and out and on both sides, then spread it evenly with your fingers. Season generously inside and out with salt and pepper.
5. Cut a few thin slices of lemon and place them inside the fish cavity, overlapping them slightly to fit. Place the rosemary sprigs over the lemon and close the fish.
6. Put the fish in the oven, and check it after 30 minutes. If the skin pulls away easily and the flesh underneath is flaky, the fish is done. Let it rest five minutes.
7. You can bring the fish to the table whole. When you’re ready to eat it, remove the skin and fins by peeling them away with a fork and your fingers.
8. Cut each side of the fish in half, remove the pieces with a spatula, and serve.
And that’s it, you’re done. You’ve roasted your first fish - take a bow (and have someone else do the dishes). Once you’ve mastered this recipe, you can try one of the others below:
Whole Roasted Fish Basquaise
Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook - a pretty essential addition to any collection, btw - this preparation features Basquaise sauce, made with wine, chicken stock and bell peppers. Before taking over the food world, Tony was a pretty good chef so we think you’ll like his take on the traditional Basque preparation. Get our Whole Roasted Fish Basquaise recipe.
Roasted Fish with Thai Pesto
If you’re looking for some traditional Thai flavors without having to hop on a 20 hour flight to Bangkok, try out our recipe for roasted fish with Thai pesto. The pesto is made with cilantro, mint, lemon grass, lime zest and ginger. Get our Roasted Fish with Thai Pesto recipe.
Whole Grilled Bass with Olives, Onions, and Artichoke
Now that you can roast a fish, it’s time to step up your game and throw it on the grill - it’s just as easy as the oven and cooking it over an open flame will add some extra smokiness and char that only the grill can deliver. The fish is stuffed with fresh aromatic herbs, thrown on a hot grill, and served along with chopped “sauce” of grilled olives, onion, and artichokes. Get our Whole Grilled Bass with Olives, Onions, and Artichoke recipe.
Campfire Trout with Herbs and Bacon
Pretty sure that everyone needs to have the experience of cooking fish that you caught that day - you’ll never have fresher fish and it gives you an appreciation for where your food comes from. All you need is a campfire and a grilling basket; you can also get some deboned / gutted fillets from your local store if you want to skip those steps and grill in your backyard. Get our Campfire Trout with Herbs and Bacon recipe.
Roasted Trout with Parsley & Tangerine
With only six ingredients, our recipe for trout with parsley and tangerine is one of meals that you can throw together at the last minute (assuming you have some fresh fish lying around) and still impress your guests. Get our Roasted Trout with Parsley & Tangerine recipe.
Cedar Plank Grilled Loup De Mer (Sea Bass)
Cooking fish on a cedar plank is a great way to impart smokiness while also protecting it from the harsh direct flames of a grill. If this sounds a little too expensive a preparation for you, follow the advice from Food52 and purchase the cedar planks from your local home improvement store. Get the recipe here.
Steamed Fish with Lime and Chili
In case you didn’t know, whole fish can ALSO be steamed for an easy, healthy meal - just cover your fish in aromatics, in this case Thai, and place the fish in your steamer. Set it and a few minutes later, dinner is ready. Get the recipe here.
Whole Roasted Fish with Wild Mushrooms
The perfect dish for your next party, this recipe from the New York Times is a visual winner - there’s nothing more impressive than bringing out a platter with a huge fish for your guests to share. It’s served along with roasted mushrooms, a drizzle of good olive oil and some sea salt. Get the recipe here.
Chinese Style Snapper
Follow this recipe from Taste.com and you can have snapper that tastes just like your local Chinese restaurant, without having to leave the house. In true Cantonese style, the fish is finished with a drizzle of hot oil. Get the recipe here.
Original story by CHOW Food Team, updated by Dan McKay