Weekend Kitchen: How to Grill a Whole Fish

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One of the best parts about a coastal vacation is the abundance of locally caught seafood, and we enjoyed it almost every night during our recent sailing trip. Returning home, I vowed to make fish a more prominent part of our diet (much to the dismay of my teenaged son, who already views our once-a-week salmon as excessive fish consumption). I took inspiration from the bluefish we caught during our trip to the Vineyard two years ago that was prepared whole for us on the grill at The Beach Plum Inn. Wanting to stay as fresh and local as possible, I bought a 3-pound trout fished from the great lakes, though to be honest I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. After researching several methods, I decided to adapt Barton Seaver’s grilling method from his cookbook For Cod and Country. It turned out to be incredibly easy! I can’t wait to make it for guests soon as it presents beautifully on a large platter, garnished simply with bunches of fresh herbs.

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Another advantage to grilling fish whole is that you can be creative and stuff it with whatever citrus and herbs you have on hand. I decided to do lemon, fennel, and parsley, but you could give it Mexican flair with lime, garlic, chiles and cilantro or try a classic combination of lemon/dill or lemon/tarragon.

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Grilled Whole Trout with Lemon, Fennel and Parsley

serves 6

  • 1 whole 3-lb trout or other similar sized fish such as snapper, scaled, gutted and cleaned
  • 1 small fennel bulb, stalks removed, fronds finely chopped and reserved
  • 1 shallot, sliced into thin rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lemons, 1 sliced into thin rounds, the other halved
  • 1 bunch parsley, half finely chopped, half reserved for other use or platter presentation
  1. Slice trimmed fennel bulb in half lengthwise, cut out v-shaped core and discard, then thinly slice into half rounds.  Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, adding sliced fennel and shallot and cooking until softened, about 5 minutes. Set side to cool.
  2. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Season fish inside and out with kosher salt. Layer lemon slices inside cavity of fish. Scoop sauteed fennel and shallots from olive oil with a slotted spoon and spread evenly in cavity of fish (reserving the oil). Sprinkle chopped parsley and fennel fronds evenly in cavity.
  3. Brush outside of fish on both sides with the cooled, reserved oil. Let fish rest on counter while you prepare grill.
  4. Create two cooking zones in your charcoal grill (one for direct and one for indirect heat) by placing all of the coals on one side, leaving the other side empty. Light coals and let burn to white embers.
  5. Place fish on hot side of grill and let it cook undisturbed until skin is lightly charred and releases easily from grill, about 8-10 minutes. With a set of extra-long thongs, carefully flip fish over, keeping it on hot side of grill and allowing it to lightly char on this side, another 8-10 minutes.
  6. Using thongs, rotate grill rack so fish is over cool half of grill. Place lemon halves on hot half (and any other veg you want to grill for sides). Close lid and leave fish undisturbed until cooked through, another 10-15 minutes. Check by making a slit in thickest part of fish (near backbone) – flesh should be opaque.
  7. Remove from grill and place on platter. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  8. Serve with juices from platter spooned over top and a good squeeze of grilled lemon.

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