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What You Didn’t Know About Grilling Fish Whole

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
April 21, 2014

Photo credit: James Peterson

Keep the scales on!

That’s what seven-time James Beard Foundation award-winning author James Peterson says in his new book, “Done: A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked,” which hit stores earlier this month. “The scales should be left on because they will prevent the fish from sticking to the grill,” he writes. This thicker, armor-like exterior also traps juices. “When it comes time to serve, the skin and scales can just be peeled off.”

Peterson recommends branzino, red snapper, or porgy—all roundish—for grilling whole, and while filleting them takes practice, “the payoff is big flavor,” he writes. Put the whole fish on a super-hot grill and cook for 5 minutes per 1 inch of thickness. Then turn over. Grill for 4 more minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the back of the fish reaches 130 degrees F.

“Another way to determine the doneness of a whole roundish is to slide a small knife along the back and to one side of the spinal column. Notice if the flesh is clinging to the bone or if it pulls away. If it pulls away—ideally it should resist a little—the fish is done. You can also insert a skewer into the back of the fish—go in about 1 inch—and then touch it to your lip. When the skewer is distinctly warm, the fish is done.”

How’s that for a party trick? Then, you just pull the fish off the grill and fillet it (you can follow the steps below, just don’t eat the skin as you didn’t scale it). Serve the meat with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt. Or, as we do, put a platter in between you and your friend/loved one/dining partner/whoever, arm each of yourselves with a fork, and pick out the flesh as you sip on some crisp white wine.

James Peterson, Done. A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food is Perfectly Cooked, Chronicle Books (2014)

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