Cooking Whole Fish

Here are 3 ways we love to eat whole fish—grilled, roasted, or steamed—and some tips on how to season.

Ways to Add Flavor

The best thing about cooking whole fish is that there’s very little advance prep work. Adding a few ingredients from the pantry or fridge, like oil, fresh herbs, and spices, lets you customize your meal in minutes.

Stuff the cavity of the fish with slices of lemon or other citrus, fresh herb sprigs such as dill, parsley, or oregano, and aromatic vegetables such as fennel or shallots. Always season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Or try a quick marinade, like a mix of chopped garlic and ginger, fresh citrus juice, olive oil, and chopped chile peppers for heat. To help the marinade penetrate, make a few shallow diagonal cuts through the flesh on either side of the fish. Add to a dish or zip-top bag and marinate the fish for up to 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Grilling Whole Fish

When the weather’s right for eating outside, grilled whole fish is the way to go. It’s perfect for a group but just as easy for dinner for two.

After seasoning the fish, brush the skin generously with olive oil and grill over medium-high heat, flipping gently once the fish is seared and releases easily from the grill grates. The fish is done when both the eyes and the flesh are opaque.

Try it with: firm fish like black sea bass or red snapper

Roasting Whole Fish

For a hands-off way to get big flavor out of whole fish, try roasting it in the oven. This method works well with more delicate fish, or smaller fish that can be placed on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish.

Roast fish in a 425-450°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 145°F and the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Try it with: smaller fish like mackerel

Steaming Whole Fish

You can either steam whole fish on the stovetop or in the oven based on the size of the fish you’d like to enjoy.

For smaller fish, a steamer basket in a stockpot or wok with lid works. For larger fish, find a roasting pan or oven-safe casserole dish with rack that will fit your fish.

Add just enough water to reach below the rack or basket without touching it. Bring to a boil or heat in a 400°F oven, then add the seasoned fish and cover with a lid or foil until the internal temperature reaches 145°F and the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Try it with: branzini or snapper!


Whether you choose to grill, roast, or steam your whole fish, eating it will certainly be the best part.

Start by removing the fins and separating the fillet from the head and collar with a sharp knife — but don't cut through the bones! Do the same with the tail end. Once the fillet is separated, run your knife along the center of the fillet lengthwise to remove it from the spine. Set the meat aside and remember to remove any small bones! Grab the tail end, which should still be attached to the spine and head, lift it completely from the rest of the fillet, and remove it from the plate. Bring all pieces of the fillet back together on the plate and enjoy!