Whether it’s a large fish served on a platter as an impressive centrepiece or plate-sized fish served individually, whole fish create an impressive presentation. Fish cooked on the bone also has the best flavour and whole fish are great value as you aren’t paying for them to be filleted.
Tips for cooking whole fish
- Ask your fishmonger to scale, gill and gut the fish so it’s ready to cook.
- Remove fish from the fridge 15-30 minutes before cooking so it comes to room temperature.
- Wipe the belly cavity well with a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining blood.
- Leatherjacket trunks are a great compromise for people who don’t like looking their dinner in the eye!
- The fish is cooked when the eyes and flesh have turned opaque and the belly fin comes out easily when pulled.
- Allow 300-500g of whole fish per person.
Tips for eating whole fish
- Eat the flesh from one side of a plate-sized fish, then carefully lift up the back bone, which should come away with the other bones attached, and eat the other side. Superstition says it’s bad luck to turn a fish over.
- Use a spoon and fork to serve portions of meat from large fish, most of the bones will remain attached to the back bone. Once all the meat from the first side is served, lift the back bone from the tail, easing the bones away from the flesh and exposing the bottom fillet.
- Some fish, such as red emperor and snapper, have fine edible skin. With thick-skinned fish, such as salmon, peel the skin away before eating or serving.
- It’s worth investing in a metal fish kettle if you want to poach whole large fish. A foolproof method for poaching whole fish to serve cold, typically salmon, is to place it in cold salted water over a low heat, cover until it starts to simmer then remove from heat, uncover and leave to cool in the poaching liquid. By the time it’s cooled it’s perfectly cooked and very succulent - as a larger volume of poaching liquid takes longer to heat and cool, this method works equally well for all size fish.
- Poach whole fish under 1kg for about 1 minute/100g (minimum 5 minutes) and add 5 minutes for each additional kilogram.
- Steaming is a quick and simple way to cook whole plate-sized fish and bamboo steamer baskets are inexpensive and widely available. You can stack two baskets on top of each other to hold 4-6 fish, rotating them half way through to ensure even cooking.
- Steam whole fish for 10-15 minutes per 500g.
Baking and Barbecuing
- Baking is a great way to prepare whole fish, as oven trays are usually larger than most pots or pans. Score large fish through the thickest part of the flesh to the bone 3-4 times on both sides, to allow even heat penetration. Once you remove it from the oven, cover and set aside in a warm place to rest for 5-10 minutes (depending on thickness) to allow the juices that have been drawn to the surface, to seep back towards the centre keeping it moist throughout.
- Stuffing in the belly cavity or as a crust on top also helps keep fish moist and adds flavour. Fish can also be wrapped in foil, baking paper, leaves (such as banana leaves) or a salt crust so that it steams inside the wrapping while baking.
- Preheat barbecues and brush fish, or leaves, well with oil to prevent sticking,
- Bake whole fish for 20-30 minutes/kg at 180?C and barbecue for 15-20 minutes/kg.
Deep-frying & Pan-frying
- Small or plate-sized fish, such as warehou, whiting and barramundi can be deep-fried whole.
- A wok is the best cooking vessel because of its wide top; don’t fill it more than two-thirds full with oil to allow room for the level to rise when the fish is added.
- Pre-heat oil to 180°C (a cube of bread dropped into the oil browns in 15 seconds).
- Carefully slide fish into the oil from the side of the wok to prevent splashing.
- Cook in batches if need be so that the oil returns to temperature quickly after the food is added.
- Small or plate-sized fish, such as rainbow trout, can also be pan-fried whole.