Sure it’s easy to buy fillets, steaks, kebabs and other butchered and prepped seafood, but if you don’t make whole fish on a regular basis, you’re missing out. We’ve got eight different ways to make it happen — or you can just deep-fry it! No matter which you choose, you’ll save a few bucks and earn some bragging rights.
Recipe: Thai Baked Sea Bass
This has been on our menu for years, its popularity never wavering. It’s fresh, fragrant and extremely flavoursome, so perfect for a light supper, or for a showstopping addition to a barbecue party. In the restaurant, we use banana leaves to wrap the fish, but given that banana leaves are not easy to come by, we have given instructions on cooking it ‘en papillotte’, meaning ‘in parchment’. You will lose nothing doing it this way, apart from the subtle fragrance imparted by the banana leaves.
Recipe: Whole Orata
Dale Talde is a master at taking familiar dishes and adding unexpected ingredients or techniques to rethink the classics — he is the creator of pretzel pork dumplings and chicken and waffle sliders, after all. At Massoni, his new Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s burgeoning NoMad neighborhood, the chef turns whole orata, the flaky white fish, into a template for various flavors designed to bring out umami. The fish is steamed and garnished, then finished in hot oil and topped with Marcona almonds.
Italian Christmas celebrations, or at least the Italian-American Christmas Eve I grew up with, always includes a fish entrée in addition to the beef or poultry. My grandmother makes salmon because it is her favorite, but I love to prepare a whole Mediterranean fish, like branzino. Its mild flavor and simple preparation even appeals to those who do not love fish. If you are serving only this dish as the main course, you may want to double the recipe.
My grandfather was a fisherman in Cobh, County Cork, and had one of the first wild-salmon fishing licenses in the county, so fresh wild salmon was a big part of my life from an early age. The season for wild salmon is a very short one in Ireland, running from June to August, and when I get my hands on my first wild salmon of the year, I get so excited about being lucky enough to cook and eat this precious king of the sea. I like to poach my salmon whole, as this method is the most delicate way of cooking the fish, and the meat just crumbles off the bone. If you don’t have a fish kettle, you could cut the salmon into three parts and poach in a saucepan. I love the tanginess and freshness of the pistachio yogurt.
Recipe: Fried Tiny Whole Fish
This is my riff on an Italian street-food favorite: paper cones of small, salty fried fish served with a dollop of creamy aioli and a wedge of lemon. For me, this is the highest and best use for small fish like smelt and anchovies because the fish don’t need to be gutted, beheaded or scaled, and because tiny crispy fish are really good to eat. This is a great party food — for a fun presentation, serve the fried fish in cones made from newspaper.
Recipe: Whole Red Snapper With Ponzu
Salt-grilled whole red snapper with Ponzu, simple and elegant, is a signature dish of Japanese cuisine. Grilling the fish with the bones intact adds flavor, succulence and juiciness to the flesh. If you prefer, you can cut off the head, but we love its tender parts, including the cheek and the insides. You can also use this grilling technique with whole sea bass, bronzini, sea bream, porgy, small grouper, dorade (also called Mediterranean sea bream) or other white fleshed fish.
I like to serve the fish right on the parchment paper it was roasted on — simply lift the fish and paper off of the roasting tray, place it on a large, colorful platter and surround it with fresh herbs and lemon wedges. So easy, and the slightly browned parchment paper gives off a cool, laid-back dinner party vibe.
This is a classic Chinese steamed fish recipe. Serve the poached fish with warm steamed rice, which symbolizes wealth and prosperity. A sweet conclusion to your Chinese New Year meal would be tangerines to guarantee you abundant happiness for the year to come.