Weekend Cooking Project : Grilled Whole Fish

The weekends coming up fast, and if you’re like us then today or tomorrow you’ll be shopping for things to eat over beer, wine and cocktails. So if you haven’t already got your grocery list finalized, may I make a suggestion? Buy yourself a whole fish. And when I say whole fish, I’m not talking the wee little single-serving size trout or some such; I’m talking the one fish to feed them all kind of whole fish. And then grill it.

Fish is about as healthy a protein as you can ask for, and buying the fish whole makes it surprisingly cheap. Plus, serving a whole grilled fish when you have company over makes you look like a far better chef than you really are. Chances are you’ll have to ask for it at your grocery’s butcher section, since they never put out whole fish in the aisles.  Or, if you have any kind of Asian grocery store where you live, you can usually get all kinds of whole fish there.  (Just make sure that if you buy it from an Asian market, you don’t make the mistake I made the first time I bought a whole fish at one: make sure it is scaled. The less said the better, but trust me on this.)

Here is my favorite recipe for a whole fish on the grill, which even my kids – who hate fish – love and ask for constantly when we hit the sunny, outdoor eating portion of the calendar. If you have everything at the ready, you can throw it together in a little over 20 minutes (plus the short fish marinading time). I found this recipe by accident, looking for a way to recreate a fish fillets with ginger sauce dish a local chinese restaurant makes. But this dish is better than that one:

Whole Grilled Fish with Ginger Onions and Lemon-Garlic Sauce

Ingredients for The Fish Part

1 Whole Snapper, 2-3 lbs., gutted & scaled (or tilapia, grouper, mahi-mahi – any firm white fish)
2 Teaspoons green peppercorns, drained and finely crushed
2 Teaspoons fresh red chiles, chopped
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
Vegetable oil (I prefer peanut oil, but any is fine)
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 inch slice of ginger, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, slivered
2 Teaspoons sugar
Optional – 4 scallions, thinly shredded (for garnish)

Ingredients for The Sauce Part

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 small red chiles, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped


1.Wash the fish, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Take a knife and make three diagonal slashes into the thickest parts of the fish on both sides.

2. Mix the crushed peppercorns, chiles and fish sauce into a paste, and brush over the fish. Refrigerate to marinate for 20-30 minutes.

3. While the fish is marinating, heat your grill to a high heat, then mix all the sauce ingredients and set aside.

4. When the grill is very hot, brush with oil and then throw the fish on. Cook for approx. 8 minutes per side, or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

5. While the fish is cooking, heat oil in a large pan and stir the onions over medium heat until golden brown. Add the ginger, garlic, and sugar – cook for about 3 minutes.

6. When the fish is done, serve on a platter, with the onion mixture over/around the fish. We serve the sauce separately, since some people like it best with the sauce and some people like the fish the way it is with the ginger onions.

If you’re like us, you’ll serve with rice or couscous, and grilled asparagus. Most white wines go very well; I’ve found that either a pinot gris or a gewürztraminer pair nicely.

Bon a petit!
Weekend Cooking Project : Grilled Whole Fish

(btw: This recipe has been modified, but the original recipe is from a 2002 cookbook called, appropriately, Sea Food, which has been out of print since at least 2006 when I first tried to order  a copy.)

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

24 thoughts on “Weekend Cooking Project : Grilled Whole Fish

  1. Interesting I just grilled up some Wild Salmon yesterday.  Paired it with some sautéed Swiss chard and wild rice (cooked in chicken stock with herbs).  It rocked.  It was not whole, sadly, but still.  Grilled asparagus too? That’s fantastic grilled as well.  Not a lot of folk seem to be aware of that.  Kudos.  Might have to try that sauce!

      Quote  Link


  2. Sounds yummy.

    Last weekend, we bought and cooked a whole trout complete with head at the Philly Italian market (albeit at an Asian seafood store) as well as a whole bunch of whole smelt that my husband pan-fried. Usually, my husband will use the head and tail to make fish stock.

    And yes, if you’re going to buy a whole fish, heed Tod’s warning and make sure it’s been scaled. We’ve made that mistake before and paid the price.

      Quote  Link


  3. Moving off the concept of whole fish for a moment…..

    Last week it was grilled lamb chops with garlic, thyme, and oregano, with sides of grilled asparagus and sweet potatoes–paired it with a nice Zin.

    Note the consistency of the asparagus inclusion :)

      Quote  Link


  4. Sounds great! Will try. Mmmmmm, fish sauce, I love you.

    I always worry with whole fish that it’s not actually cheaper because I’m paying for bones, and then I’ve given myself extra work and not saved anything. But I’ve never checked on this to be sure.

      Quote  Link


    • Part of the beauty of buying a whole fish is that there’s no need to bone, you cop the whole thing.  And fish this big have large, from bones that once cooked separate from the flesh very easily, so it’s pretty rare for a bone to get to your plate from the serving platter.

        Quote  Link


  5. Most of this does not make sense to me. For example, “1.Wash the fish, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Take a knife and make three diagonal slashes into the thickest parts of the fish on both sides.” I’m sure this is easy for most people, but I’m totally clueless. Sounds yummy though! Grilled asparagus is my absolute favorite.

    Man, I need to learn to cook.

      Quote  Link


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *