Cooking whole fish, on the BBQ – or otherwise – has always somewhat eluded me, and I expect it has for lots of other people, too.
I wasn’t quite sure how to cook it (compared with the convenience of fillets seared in a pan or cooked under a broiler), was slightly squeamish at the idea of dealing with the head, tail or insides, and of course, there’s the fear of bones.
In the spirit of bravery and adventure, I gave it a go. It turns out, I needn’t have worried. Quite the reverse – it was the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a long time (those who read my blog may agree that is saying something) and it couldn’t have been easier.
This time I chose a whole rainbow trout. Cleaned and head removed by the fishmonger, it weighed 500g and cost a very modest £2.75, feeding two. Far cheaper than individual fillets of fish, let alone a steak!
I gave it a quick rinse with cold water – inside and out – and patted dry with a paper towel. Next I scored the skin and flesh on both sides, just about down to the bone, seasoned with salt and pepper – again, inside and out – and stuffed with a few slices of lemon, red onion and fennel fronds. Finally, I added a few small knobs of butter inside and on top, near the slashes.
On a pre-heated, scraped BBQ, I placed the fish buttered-side up. I cooked it for 6 minutes on the first side, on a medium-low BBQ (the dial hovered between 180C and 200C – low by BBQ standards). Once flipped, I added a few final small knobs of butter to the top, and cooked for a further 7 minutes, removing to a large board.
The funny thing about serving one whole fish for two people is it can’t easily be split in two for plating. Instead, I piled everything up on a large wooden board, we dispensed with individual plates, and enjoyed a truly shared meal. Quite a sexy vibe.
I served the fish with citrus-roasted fennel (squeezing over lemon before roasting instead of sliced grapefruit), fluffy baguette, half a lemon for squeezing, and some crisp white wine. We ate al fresco, optimistically for March, I admit, but it was delightful.
The fish was smoky, full of flavour and absolutely melt-in-mouth.
Yes, there were bones. But the fish was so tender and juicy that it slid straight off the spine into large chunks, and the spine lifted straight out halfway through eating. A few small rogue bones are part of the deal, but easily spotted and lifted off. No need to panic if you find one in your mouth; just remove, set aside, and get on with life. Believe me when I say the flavour and moist flesh is something that couldn’t be achieved in fillet-form: well worth the occasional inconvenience of a small fish bone.
I’m a complete whole-fish convert, and can confidently say that while this was the first time I BBQ’d a whole trout, it certainly won’t be the last.