Often it can be quite daunting taking charge of grilling a whole fish, especially if you haven’t done it before. However we are here to help and let you know that if you take your time then it really isn’t so difficult. Also it usually means you have a fresher and therefore more delicious fish and it even works out cheaper – so there is no excuse not to give it a go. The dry heat of the grill makes the skin unbelievably tasty and crisp with juicy meat in the middle.
It really doesn’t have to be as daunting as it originally seems and we’ve found a very handy guide from Serious Eats to help you on your way. Good Luck!
Step 1: Prepare the Fish and Grill
The first thing you need to do when grilling fish is get both the fish and the grill ready. I like to set the grill up for two-zone grilling, so that I have the option of moving the fish from a hotter area of the grill to a cooler one, depending on how it’s cooking. Generally speaking, I find that starting out over the higher-heat area of the grill is better for whole fish, since, just like in a skillet, the fish’s skin is less likely to stick to a very hot surface. But if it’s a big fish, and I find that the skin is nicely charred but the fish hasn’t fully cooked through yet, I want to be able to shift it over to the cooler side to finish cooking without the skin burning.
The next thing is to clean and oil the grill grate thoroughly. This is a step that we encourage for all grilling, but it’s even more important with fish—since fish is more delicate, it’s more likely to tear if it sticks to the grill, and a dirty, un-oiled grill grate is a heck of a lot more likely to stick to the fish than a blazing-hot, clean, oiled one.
Last, I like to prep my fish by taking it out of the refrigerator about 20 or 30 minutes before I cook it so that it can come to room temperature.
Step 2: Set the Fish on the Grill
Once you’ve preheated the grill, cleaned and oiled the grate, and prepped the fish, it’s time to get cooking. In the photo above, you’ll notice that I set the fish at a 45° angle to the grill grate. That’s a habit held over from my restaurant days—it’s the secret to getting nice crosshatch grill marks on the fish, assuming you then rotate it 90° to complete the crosshatching. But it’s also a useful position for the fish when it comes time to turn it.
Step 3: Time to Turn
Knowing when to turn the fish is a little bit of a guessing game. Generally speaking, though, I wait until it looks like the skin has browned nicely before attempting to turn it.
When I am ready to try to flip the fish, I use a trick I learned from fish master and chef Dave Pasternack of Esca in New York City. Most people try to turn a fish on the grill with a spatula, but that’s asking for trouble: You have to slide the spatula under the fish, and if the fish is sticking at all, you’re not going to find out until you’ve shredded the thing. Others use tongs, but I find that you’re more likely to manhandle a fish with them.
If it’s ready, the fish will lift right up. If you’ve prepped the grill and fish well, and waited long enough, the fish will not stick.
More Fish Recipes here