Remember those grilled clams with ramp butter from earlier this week? Those were just a pregame for this meal. Nice summer days encourage me to either eat a light, fresh meal of seafood and greens... or to saddle up to a picnic table and house a grilled burger and fries. (What is wrong with me?)
I love eating stuff with bones. Bone-in ribeye? Obviously. Chicken thighs on the bone? Yessir! Rack of lamb? I desire it. Bones ooze natural flavor, and an added bonus: they make me feel like I'm at the top of the food chain.
Cooking a whole fish, bone-in and head-on is no different. The skin gets nice and crispy while protecting the delicate interior. It comes out more flavorful and juicy than cooking fillets on their own. And you can stuff it with tons of herbs and citrus to circulate through the flesh while it cooks.
And it's also really easy, you guys. Invite a couple guests over and you will look super impressive and advanced. They don't have to know how simple it really is. (Added layers of impressiveness: wear an apron and say things like "earthy notes" while sipping your wine.) I like the steps that Bon Appétit takes to prep Little Nemo. It's simple and hard to mess up. That's my kind of process.
Good choices for this prep are lean, white, flaky fish like snapper, branzino or rainbow trout. You'll want a fish that is around 1.5 pounds to feed two people. Ours was just under that and it was the perfect amount with grilled knob onions and a green salad.
1. Select a super fresh whole fish. (Look for: clear eyes, springy skin, bright red gills and smooth shiny scales). Ask that it be scaled and gutted with the gills removed. It's a good idea to call your fish monger in the morning or the day prior to set aside your fish of choice for you. In Chicago, I like Dirk's and Isaacson & Stein's (never judge a monger by his website), but Whole Foods always has freshies to pluck up in a pinch.
2. Heat your gas grill to medium-high.
3. Pat the skin and the cavity dry with a paper towel.
4. Diagonally score each side deeply (to the bone) every 1 1/2 inches. Start near the head right under the fin and work toward the tail. (The cuts distribute the heat properly so the fish cooks evenly and also allows the seasonings to absorb.)
5. Season each side and the cavity with coarsely ground salt and pepper.
6. Stuff the cavity with whatever herbs you desire. It's ok to put the whole sprig in there.
7. Place thinly sliced citrus in there as well. Lemon, meyer lemon and tangerine all work great.
8. Coat the whole fish with a nice olive oil.
9. Clean your grill and grill tools and brush them both with olive oil. Actually do this. It will make a difference.
10. Put your fish on the grill and wait. DO NOT TOUCH IT! If you try to move it prematurely, you will rip the skin and the fish will fall apart and you'll be sad all day.
(If you are grilling knob or spring onions like we did, now is the time to throw those on the top rack. Simply brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Halve them lengthwise if they're fatties.)
11. Wait about 6 minutes and gently try to slide your oiled metal spatula under the skin. If it doesn't budge, give it another minute or two. Carefully flip the fish over and cook the other side another 6-8 minutes. Once it lifts without resistance, you are ready to pull it off.
12. Place on a large platter and garnish with maldon salt, parsley and a generous squeeze of lemon. EAT IMMEDIATELY! (Unlike we did since I had to snap about 20 photos. My husband is very patient.)
How do you serve this bad boy? As it is. Whole fish are most enjoyable when you just get right in there. Don't try to remove the meat from the bones and plate it. It will end up mangled. Just eat it right off the platter. Chances are you like the person you are sharing it with, so what's the big deal?
Dig your fork into the skin and pull off the meat. It should slide right off the little bones. Just be careful when you chew; there might be a few small bones that come off in your fork. Once you have plowed through one side, flip 'er over and get into the second half. When you're done, it should look like this (as should the expression on your face):
What else should I make as an excuse to eat more ramp butter?
Hope you enjoy eating things with faces! I know I do.