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Cooking Techniques: How to cook a whole fish

Technique is everything!

At least that is what you hear on all the professional cooking shows on T.V. But in reality, cooking technique is extremely important. When you purchase high quality ingredients you want to enjoy them in the best possible way; that’s when cooking technique takes center stage. Whether you are heading to an elegant dinner featuring fresh whole fish or out on the boat this summer fishing; this cooking technique for whole fish will surely come in handy!

First, you need to find whole fish. If you have a fishmonger near you, then your best bet is to get your whole fish there.   Another choice is going to specialty grocery stores that sell whole fish. There are few in the Chicagoland area. Lastly, you may be fishing out on the Great Lakes or on vacation by the ocean. Those of you who go this route are the luckiest (since you will have the freshest whole fish)!

Why cook my fish whole and not fillet?

Whole fish is more flavorful. The flesh is juicer and moister than fillets.   The skin and bones keep the juices from evaporating and if the whole fish is grilled, the skin gets nice a crispy.


Whole fish that is commonly cooked?

  1. Salmon
  2. Red Snapper
  3. Bass
  4. Trout
  5. Branzino
  6. Sardines

Each pound of whole fish yields approximately 1 ½ servings

Cooking Technique for whole fish

Part One: Cleaning the whole fish

Whole fish still needs to be gutted, cleaned and possible deboned.

-The BEST possible place to gut and clean a whole fish is outside. Set up a table outdoors and cover with newspaper. A nice high table will definitely reduce any backaches later. Also, when you are all done, just use the garden hose to spray and clean the table.

You will need:

-a bucket


-sharp cutting knife

-a clean container for cut fish

-a butter knife (to scrap fish scales)

-pliers to debone

1/ Hold the fish firm by the head and begin scraping the scales from the tale to the head. The scales should come loose and fly off. (Be careful of fins and gills since they can cut you)

2/Remove all scales and rinse with clean fresh water delicately as not to blast the fish to hard.

Part Two: Gutting the fish

1/ Insert the knife at the end of the tail and draw the knife towards the head. The fish will begin to split into half.

2/ Reach in, pull out all the entrails, and place in the bucket.

3/Rinse the cavity out with fresh clean water with slight pressure.

4/If the head on bothers you, you can cut off just behind the gills. However, many whole fish are cooked with the head on.

Part Three: Cooking the whole fish

You can deep fry whole fish; Cook them in the oven, or on a grill.

If you choose to deep fry the whole fish, you will need a large enough fryer that is nice a hot. You can also season with salt, pepper, old bay seasoning after frying and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Let’s take a look at grilling a whole fish!

1/Heat up your grill to 350 to 450 degrees, gas or charcoal grill is fine.

2/Oil the grill grates so the fish doesn’t stick

3/Rub the fish inside and out with olive oil, salt, and pepper

4/Stuff the fish if you desire. Some options are garlic & herbs, salsa, minute sauce, sweet chili sauce; really anything that is tempting your taste buds can be used here.

5/ Place on grill. Depending upon size the cooking time on each side can vary from 10-20 minutes. Typically, 1-2 pound whole fish cook for 20-30 minutes.

6/The fish is done at 130 degrees or when the flesh flakes easily.

Part Four: Serving the whole fish

1/Place the whole fish on a platter with sliced lemon, whole herbs, and few choices for dipping sauces.

2/Slice the fish crosswise into portions; lift with a spatula to prevent it from falling apart. You can peel back the skin to get to the flesh or some people enjoy eating the skin if it is nice and crisp from the grill.

3/Watch out for bones! Even the BEST deboner in the world can miss one or two, especially with smaller fish as it can be difficult to see them.


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