Grilling whole fish is one of the best ways to prepare a fresh catch. It requires little more than a hot fire and can be done on the beach, right next to the river or at home.
There are a few important things to remember when grilling a fish whole. The first is that it the skin is likely to stick to the cooking surface. To prevent sticking, make sure to oil the grates and the fish before grilling.
A step that most people miss is not patting the fish dry. If you grill the fish while it’s still cold or wet, it will release steam and stick to the grates. The last thing you want to see is your hard-earned dinner falling apart or engulfed by flames.
Pro tip: score your fish by slashing through the skin and meat vertically across the filets. Scoring will ensure that the fish cooks evenly and quickly. This is beneficial when working with large fish.
If you plan on grilling while camping, I suggest making this refreshing cajun verde sauce in advance to spoon over the fish. The sauce is made up of green onion, celery leaves and green bell pepper. These ingredients subtly reference the flavors of the Holy Trinity, the bayou’s version of mirepoix. In addition to serving with fish, this sauce works well with grilled vegetables, rice or as a salad dressing.
Time to make
2-4 whole fish (trout, flounder, bass, snapper or others)
Creole spice mix
Cajun Verde Sauce
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup celery leaves, substitute with parsley
1/2 green bell pepper
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. olive oil
Also works with
Most whole fish
Fish basket (optional), grill, sauté pan, whisk
- Prep the fish before cooking by scaling, gutting and scrubbing clean. Pat it dry with paper towels and bring to room temperature. This step is essential; otherwise any moisture will release steam on the grill and cause the skin to stick.
- Score the flesh of the fish by making 3-4 vertical slashes through the skin and meat, down to the bone. The cuts should be about 2 inches apart.
- Clean the grates of the grill and season them with oil to prevent sticking. Pre-heat the grill or burn down coals to moderately high heat.
- Drizzle enough oil over the fish to fully coat the sides and inside the cavity. Sprinkle the fish with your favorite Creole spice mix, making sure to season the meat in between the slash marks. You can stuff the cavity with wedges of lemon or herbs if desired.
- Lay the whole fish down and grill over direct, high heat. Resist the urge to move the fish around because the skin needs to develop a crust so that it doesn’t stick. After several minutes, once the fish will lift freely, carefully slip a spatula underneath and roll over to cook on the opposite side.
- Keep the fish on the grill until a crust has developed again. A small trout may only need about 8-10 minutes total, but bigger fish can take up to 20 minutes. To avoid burning the skin of a thick fish that hasn’t cooked through, reduce the heat (or slide over to indirect heat) and cover with foil. Be cautious not to overcook. You don’t want dry fish, nor do you want the meat to fall off before removing from the grill. Check for doneness by pricking with a fork; the meat should flake apart easily.
- Serve the whole grilled fish with a spoonful of the Cajun verde sauce.
Cajun Verde Sauce
- Measure out about 3/4 cup of leaves from the celery. Substitute with parsley to reach the amount of herbs needed. Finely chop the green bell pepper and celery leaves and set aside.
- Pre-heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and minced garlic. Toast the garlic, occasionally stirring, until the garlic is close to turning golden in color. Remove from the heat and allow the oil to cool. The garlic will continue to cook in the oil. Be sure to remove the garlic before it burns. If that happens, start over.
- Squeeze the lemon juice into a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle a thin stream of the toasted garlic oil into the bowl while constantly whisking until the oil has been fully emulsified. Whisk in the sliced green onions, chopped celery leaves and green bell pepper. Taste and season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. If the lemons are bitter, squeeze a small dollop of honey to balance the sour if needed.
- The sauce can be made in advance and served cold. Store it in a jar and shake to re-emulsify when ready to serve. This recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.