Grilled Branzino and Heirloom Tomato Salad
with Halloumi Cheese & Black Garlic
The sight of a whole fish cooking on a grill is a thing of beauty. We are so accustom to seeing our fish filet in its very symmetric form, lined up perfectly on our grill, to be placed strategically on our plate alongside our colorful summer salad. That is beautiful but that whole fish, that’s gorgeous!
I first learned to cook whole fish at the Culinary Institute of America’s BBQ Boot Camp. It was so simple to do! The most important requirement was lots of oil on the fish. The skin is delicate and can stick to the grill if not properly oiled. We stuffed it with butter, aromatics and lemon. The skin and the bones add to the flavor. The skin is a protective coat, keeping the delicate fish away from the dry heat of the grill.
The challenge came when it was time to eat the fish. I really have no interest in picking around bones to get a bite of the flavorful moist fish. Too much work, not a pretty sight to me or anyone watching me and I don’t want to get a bone in my mouth. I have ordered whole fish in restaurants where they fillet the fish table side. It’s so fun to watch but a bit intimidating to take on at home. I am always up for a challenge when it comes to cooking. Come to find out, it’s not hard to do at all. All you need is a knife and a fish spatula. The fish easily separates from the bone leaving you with a beautiful fillet to set next to your beautiful summer salad.
It is a Mediterranean fish also known as European Sea Bass. The flavor is mild with a slight sweetness to it. It’s moist and lends well to stuffing and grilling. The crispy skin is eatable and filled with Omega fats.
This recipe can be done with other whole fish as well. Red Snapper and Black Striped Bass are also delicious to stuff and grill. Cooking times may need to be adjusted based on the size of the fish.
Heat the grill to medium high heat (400-450 degrees).
Rinse your fish off in cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Rub the outside of the fish with coconut oil. Season outside and inside with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Add dabs of butter inside the fish and stuff with lemon slices and herbs.
Grill 6-8 minutes per side (for a 1 – 1 ½ lb. fish) and up to 10 minutes for a 2 lb fish. The fish is ready to flip when it easily pulls off of the grill grates. The fish knows when it’s time to flip, don’t force it. An easy way to flip is to use two large spatulas. Place your spatulas under the fish. Gently lift and roll on to the other spatula.
You know the fish in done by checking the inside cavity to ensure the fish flakes with a fork or use an instant thermometer. Placing it in the thickest part of the fish, it should read 130 degrees.
FILLETING A WHOLE COOKED FISH,The fun begins!
Cut away the head but do not cut through the backbone. The head will still be attached at the backbone.
Cut through the skin and flesh down the center of the fish.
Cut off the tail fin.
With a spatula, gently remove the top fillet. Set to the side on a platter.
Grabbing the backbone at the tail end, gently lift the backbone from the fish.
There will be a thin layer of bones exposed. With the back of your knife, gently push them away from the flesh to clean the edges.
Check for any remaining bones that may have been left behind. Transfer the second fillet to your platter.
If you don’t want to serve with the skin on, you can follow these same steps. You won’t need a knife. Just use your spatula to remove the skin and then place the skinless filets on your platter.
YOU DID IT!
Note: You can delete the butter and rub coconut or olive oil inside the fish cavity.
2nd Note: Fish cooks at about 10 minutes per inch at its thickest part. So if your fish is 2 inches at its thickest point, it will take 20 minutes (10 minutes per side).