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Whole Grilled Fish

If you’re used to preparing fish that’s already been filleted, I highly recommend grilling a whole fish at least once. It will give you an immediate sense of your food’s animal origins, and the flavors and eating experience are somehow elevated. I can’t explain it, but you’ll know what I mean when you try it.

A couple of quick tips when looking for good grilling fish:

  • Make sure your fish is ultra-fresh –it should smell clean, not at all fishy, and the eyes should still be clear, not heavily clouded over.
  • Ask if the fish seller has any local catch in the back. Often these are the best fish, but they aren’t on display because people generally ask for the more expensive, imported choices.
  • To support more even grilling, choose several smaller fish (2-2.5 pounds, at least 2 inches thick) rather than one large one.
  • Unless you know how to do it yourself, ask that your fish be gutted and scaled for you, but the head and tail left intact.

If you’re going to cook the fish the same day you purchase it, there’s no real need to marinate if it’s a relatively mild variety. If it’s a strongly flavored fish or you’re going to prepare it the next day (and I don’t advise waiting any longer than that), soak it in a marinade overnight after you make the diagonal flesh cuts. Stronger fish benefit from stronger, spicy marinades, while milder fish do well with salty marinades. Use lots of oil as your base and a good spice combo you enjoy, but skip the acids as they will both “cook” and break down the delicate flesh of fish very quickly.

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