I know that not everyone likes fish. I just don’t understand why.
Maybe I like fish because I grew up fishing. Maybe it’s the variety of textures and flavors, maybe it’s the health benefits or maybe it’s just because I love cooking fish in every possible way.
It’s not just freshwater fish, like trout. The incredible variety of fresh and saltwater fish, including shellfish, crustaceans and mollusks, offer endless possibilities. Every culture, from every corner of the globe, uses fish in some way, and the method of preparation always reflects the traditions of their own cuisine.
Here’s a method for preparing any whole fish that is both simple and utterly delicious. I’d like to say I caught these fish myself, but I confess – they are farm-raised pink-fleshed trout. If you don’t like trout, you can use whatever you prefer, as long as it’s fresh.
2 whole fish with head on, about 1 to 1-1/2 lb each; trout, bass, walleye, steelhead, rockfish all work well
- fresh herbs of your choice (we used fresh dill, parsley, chives & lemon balm)
- Lemon-infused olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 lemon
Rinse the fish well and remove innards & scale if necessary. Pat dry with paper towels and rub the interior with sea salt and pepper. Divide the herbs into 2 bundles, reserving a few sprigs for garnish. Stuff the body cavity of each fish with one bundle of herbs. Tie 2 or 3 long chives around the fish to hold the body cavity closed. Brush both sides of each fish with a generous amount of the lemon-infused olive oil and set aside.
Prepare the grill. I prefer cooking on an old-fashioned charcoal grill – any decent grill, large or small will work just fine. We used a few chunks of mesquite wood soaked in water for 45 minutes in addition to the charcoal briquettes to give the fish a wonderful smoky flavor. If you don’t have mesquite, use alder, cherry, apple or other fruit woods – the smoke from hickory or oak tends to be quite intense and can overpower the delicate flavor of the fish.
Once the charcoal is covered with an even coat of white ash, it’s ready to go. Spread the coals evenly across bottom of the grill and toss the water-soaked wood chunks on, if using. Oil the grate and allow it to heat up.
Place the fish on the grill and put the cover on. Resist the urge to peek too often – raising the lid will allow much of the heat and the delicious smoke to escape. After 6 – 8 minutes, remove the top and gently roll each fish over onto the opposite side, using a spatula or two if necessary. Cover again and cook for another 4 – 6 minutes. Test for doneness and please, for Pete’s sake, don’t overcook it! Fish cooks very quickly and will continue to cook for a minute or two after it’s been removed from the grill.
Place the fish on a serving plate, chop the remaining herbs and sprinkle over the fish, if desired. Add fresh lemon wedges and an additional sprinkle of sea salt and serve immediately.
If you’ve done your job right, the skin will be crisp & entirely edible and the flesh will be moist & succulent, full of the aroma and flavor of fresh herbs.
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