A grill tray or fish basket helps prevent sticking.
Whole fish grilled over an open flame develops a crackled skin but stays nice and moist inside. Unfortunately, the increasing popularity of fish has not translated into greater availability of whole fish. Almost everything you see is already filleted. It’s a shame because the flesh of fish cooked whole on the bone tastes juicier. If you don’t mind serving whole fish with the head on, shop around for a fish market that sells whole fish. Even if you don’t want to bring a fish head to the table, you’ll get better flavor by cooking the whole fish, and then removing the head just before serving.
Slashing the flesh in its thicker parts helps the fish grill more evenly and gets the seasoning closer to the meat, where it does the most good. In this sea bass (black bass) recipe, those slashes deliver the bracing Japanese flavors of wasabi, lemon zest, garlic, and ginger.
How To Carve A Whole Fish
A whole cooked fish makes an impressive presentation but it can be intimidating to carve and serve. Here’s an easy method: Remove the top fillet by inserting the side of a spatula just behind the head. When you feel bone, slide the spatula along the backbone toward the tail. Use the long side of the spatula to lift the entire fillet off the backbone; or for very long fish, cut it into manageable pieces and lift them one by one. Next, grab the tail with one hand and insert the spatula beneath the tail to cut the bottom fillet from the base of the tail. Lift the tail and backbone off the bottom fillet toward the head, cutting the fillet from the head. Discard the fish carcass—from head to tail—and serve the bottom fillet.
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- Grill tray or fish basket
- 3 tablespoons Mustard Wasabi Rub
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 ½ pounds sea bass (black bass) about 2 whole fish, scaled, fins removed, and head left on
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- ⅓ cup pickled (sushi) ginger
- 3 scallions
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page
- Fire up. Prepare a grill for 2-zone cooking, aiming for about 375°F in the direct zone. Preheat a grill tray or fish basket in the direct zone.
- Prep. Mix the wasabi rub and lemon zest in a small bowl and set aside.
- Scrape the dull side of a knife against the skin of the fish, running from tail to head, to remove excess moisture and fine scales. Cut three or four diagonal slashes through the flesh of the fish on each side, down to the bone. Rub the fish inside and out with the oil, then season inside and out with the wasabi rub.
- Finely chop the pickled ginger, thinly slice the scallions (green and white parts), and mince the garlic. Combine them in a bowl with the soy sauce and set aside.
- Cook. Brush the grill grate clean and oil the hot grill tray or fish basket liberally, using an oily paper towel and tongs. Put the fish on the tray or in the basket and set it directly over the heat. Cover the grill and cook until the fish is browned on both sides, but is still filmy and moist in the center (about 130°F internal temperature), about 15 minutes, turning once. If necessary, adjust the heat so that your grill temp stays around 375°F.
- Serve. Plate the whole fish and serve it with the pickled ginger mixture. Another drizzle of oil wouldn't hurt.
This recipe was reprinted with permission from Fire It Up: More Than 400 Recipes For Grilling Everything by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle Books, 2011).