I don't blame you for being intimidated to cook a whole fish, it took me years to even give it a try and then a few boney attempts until I felt confident enough to share these recipes with you. If you have never eaten a whole fish, if you think you don't like fish, if you love fish, but don't cook it, please keep reading.
I have had amazing fish meals and I have had horrible ones. Truthfully, I feel the same way about most food, just last year I had the most incredible orange, unlike anything I had tried in a long time and it reminded me how much I like oranges. For years I stopped buying them after a few bad oranges turned me off. The trick with fish is making sure to buy the freshest fish possible!!!
If you get fresh fish and cook it simply you really will love it and a whole fish is the way to go. When cooking a whole fish it is actually really hard to get it wrong. It doesn't get dried out or overcooked like some fillets, the bones add flavor and moisture so that all you need is salt and pepper and maybe some lemon for a delicious dish. Before serving you can remove the bones so you don't have to worry about those either. Still what I have learned is that some fish work better than others especially for the novice fish cooker.
Some fish have large enough bones that they all come out easily, you can slice off the fillet and pull the skeleton out. Some have smaller bones that might not all come out, but since they are small they can actually be eaten safely if thy don't bother you. Some of my favorite fish to cook whole are branzino and grouper, but you should also ask your fish monger what he recommends. You can roast them in the oven, char them over the BBQ grill, cook them in a frying pan or even steam them with a flavorful broth.
The best part is:
You will really be able to choose the freshest fish. And if your kids are anything like mine they can fight over the eyeballs (I know they are strange).
For this Branzino with Olives and Lemon I cooked it on a grill pan, but it would be really spectacular on an outdoor grill, just be careful for flying olives. The best way to cook a whole branzino is to fill the cavity with herbs and citrus, sprinkle with salt and pepper and little oil and roast, grill or pan fry. Give this recipe a try, the flesh is flaky and flavorful, you will love it. If you need some help carving up the fish to avoid the bones, here is a great tutorial.
More: How To Pick Fresh Fish
If I haven't convinced you to try a cooking a whole fish, bones and all, how about trying a fish that has been butterflied. That means you still have the head and tail, but no bones. This recipe is for a Mustard Panko Butterflied Trout, offers a little stronger flavor and a very easy preparation to get you one step closer to the full whole fish.
This recipe for Whole Roasted Turbot comes from Alessanrdra Rovati, our Italian expert and was originally in our magazine. I haven't gotten my hands on Turbot yet, but I like her low and slow method. The fish looks so meaty I have to recommend it.
I made this Branzino with Citrus and Caramelized Fennel back when I wasn't ready for the head and before my kids begged for fish eyeballs. This one was butterflied too, but if I were to make it again I would use a whole fish with the same recipe.
The Sephardi Hot Spiced Fish is made with butterflied fish as well, which I might prefer given all the sauce and flavors, it would make serving bit easier. If you are not so sure you like fish yet, start with something like this where the flavors are strong.
Main image is the Mediterranean Baked Trout with Fennel Salad by Jamie. It is very similar to my branzino preparation, simple and delicious.
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