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The Confident Cook

How to make whole roast fish, restaurant style

Karoline Boehm Goodnick for The Boston Globe

Roasting a whole fish seems more complicated than it actually is. With a few tips, the home cook can prepare a meal worthy of a restaurant table. The most important factor is the oven temperature; a very hot oven ensures brown and crispy skin without overcooking the flesh. A few diagonal slits in the skin help it cook evenly and makes sure the ends don’t curl up. Plenty of olive oil adds to the flavor but also guarantees that the skin won’t stick to the pan.

Once the fish is cooked, brush it with an herb-heavy oil. Put the fish on a platter and present them to your guests. At that time, you may choose to serve an entire fish to each diner or fillet the fish tableside. Filleting the fish for your friends adds a bit of old-school elegance, but it takes time, and they may enjoy the process of deconstructing their own meal.

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Instruct them to first make a diagonal slit behind the head and then along the top side of the backbone, and lastly another diagonal cut before the tail. Next, run a table knife along the bones and lift off the top fillet, keeping the crisp skin intact. Set the first fillet aside and check for any small bones that may be stuck in the flesh. Pick up and discard the entire skeleton along with the head and tail. It should all stay together. Now run the knife between the flesh and the skin of the bottom fillet, discarding the bottom skin that did not crisp upon cooking. Again, check for stray bones. Encourage your guests to seek out the fish cheeks as well. Some diners may prefer to prepare the fish entirely before eating. Others may like to nibble a bit at a time and enjoy a work in progress. Either way, provide plenty of white wine and good conversation in addition to finger bowls with lemon or warm towels at the end of the meal.

Whole roast fish

Serves 4

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FISH

4small, whole fish such as Mediterranean sea bass (also known as branzino), snapper, or porgi (about 1 pound each)
4tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2small lemons, thinly sliced
2shallots, thinly sliced
4cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4large sprigs thyme

1. Set the oven at 525 degrees. Have on hand 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

2. Rinse off fish, cleaning out cavity well. Pat dry with a towel or paper towel. With a sharp knife, cut 3 diagonal slits in the skin on each side. Rub the skin and the cavity of each fish with 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper, salting the fins and tail liberally for good presentation. Fill each cavity with lemons, shallots, garlic, and thyme.

3. Roast fish for 10 minutes, using the top and bottom racks of the oven. Rotate the pans. Continue cooking for 10 minutes or until skin is a crisp brown and flesh flakes easily. (Total cooking time is 20 minutes.)

HERB VINAIGRETTE

cup olive oil
2tablespoons sherry vinegar
3tablespoons coarsely torn parsley
3tablespoons coarsely chopped chives

1. In a small bowl, stir together olive oil, sherry vinegar, parsley, and chives.

2. Spoon vinaigrette over cooked fish. Serve with a green salad and a simple starch like orzo or roasted potatoes. Karoline Boehm Goodnick


Karoline Boehm Goodnick can be reached at kboehmgoodnick@gmail.com