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Best Way to Cook a Whole Fish at Home

Impress your friends and family by cooking a whole fish! Follow these tips and tricks and you'll never be scared of handling a whole fish again! Keep reading!

Trust me, I get it. Cooking a whole fish seems intimidating. You've got the head, and the eyes still intact. The tail and tiny bones. Not only are you confused how to cook it without messing up, you're probably confused how to serve it and eat it, maybe you're even wondering what to do with the insides.

Well I'm here to answer all of that for you...keep reading.

For starters, remove every bad thought you've had about cooking a whole fish.

If it's the smell you're worried about, just light your candles/incense and open a window if needed. But also, you shouldn't have a bad fishy should notice any bad scents before your fish leaves the store.

The good news is, you get to pick the fish you want to browse the selection. Not much thought needs to go into it. Maybe look at the names.

Do you see a name that looks familiar (or one I will name below)?

Once you pick the piece you want, you can ask the fishmonger to cut the guts out. Simple. Most stores will weigh the fish first then cut it and scale it for you. Just ask. It's normal.

Unfortunately, this doesn't get rid of the bones. If it's the bones you're worried about, don't. They're what makes eating the whole fish fun! You might have to get down and dirty and use your fingers (which is totally acceptable in my eyes).

I like to serve this fish on top a nice rich sauce. That way you can just pick through it with your fork and each bite will be flavorful and saucy. Since I typically make this for just my boyfriend and I, picking off the platter together is not an issue. Keep a spoon handy to shovel some fish and sauce onto your personal plate with veggies and/or rice. Or serve your fish in a brothy, flavorful soup and spoon through it. My Sichuan Boiled Fish recipe would work great for this. Just leave out the noodles if you find it to be too messy and hands on.

Tip 1:

Types of fish that work well for beginners.

The first fish I cooked whole was a "porgy". I never heard of it before but it was smaller and the most normal looking out of the bunch. It was also somewhere around $5 for just one so I felt like if I messed it up in anyway it was okay because it was on the cheaper side. Needless to say it turned out perfectly fine.

Another good choice is branzino. It's a mediterranean sea bass. It's a medium-sized fish. I had it in a restaurant before so I was familiar with the name. The cost of it in the store wasn't too high for how big the piece was. I prepared the branzino by following the Bon Appetit story on Contramar's Red and Green fish. I followed just the green side for this recipe and used whatever I had on hand.

Red snapper is another common fish and really good one to make whole at home. I prepared two little red snappers for my first Seder! I followed a very simple seasoning blend and ate it right off the platter with roasted vegetables.

Tip 2:

I find it best to serve a whole fish in a sauce

The best way to eat a whole fish is to just pick around the bones. If bones are going to be a huge deal breaker, then just stick to filets.

I first decided to attempt a whole fish I was going through a phase where I was trying to make West African dishes from scratch. We had fufu and beef stew, jollof rice, and a whole fish. From reading through several recipes that week, I saw that many african dishes keep the bones in the stew. The bones are helping add to the broth or stew you're serving it in. When eating a dish like fufu, you're eating the whole thing pretty much with your hands. A fish stew would be no different. Served with fufu and using your hands to pick around the bones. It slows you down and makes you appreciate every bite.

Serving the fish in a sauce base allows each bite to be flavorful and the picking to be less annoying. You can still enjoy this with rice and veggies.

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Tip 3

If you choose to grill your whole fish or fry it stovetop in oil, use a pan that's big enough and make sure your fish is very hot. Don't burn yourself, but we want the fish to cook in hot oil or a hot enough grill to keep it from sticking to the bottoms.

How to cook a whole fish
Pan Fried Whole Fish

When cooking stove top in oil, lightly flour your fish skin and season with a little salt. Place your fish in the hot oil head first (hold it by the tail). No big deal if the tail is sticking out. When you place the fish into the oil, DO NOT TOUCH IT. You must not move the fish at all until it tells you to. If you attempt to move the fish and it's tough to pick it off the pan, that means it's not finished yet. A finished piece will lift up with ease. Trust and have patience during this step. It'll be hard.

When grilling, you can choose to use a grilling plank, or place lemons onto the grill rack, oil and salt the tops, then place your fish down. You can use this tip for cooking any fish with skin.


use these sauce and spice recipes whether baking, grilling, pan frying, or deep frying your fish!


1. Grill fish, skin side down in oil, until skin is charred and fish is almost cooked through, 7–10 minutes, flip and repeat.

2. Bake fish, in roasting pan with butter or oil at 450 degrees for 18 minutes, for a medium sized fish.


just pop it in the blender until desired consistency!

  • 1 bunch cilantro

  • 1-2 fresh jalapenos (add more or less based on your heat level)

  • salt

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup water (add slowly, could need more depending on how saucy you want it)

  • ** Add tomatillos for a chunkier sauce base, can be used for fish tacos.


prepared right in the blender until smooth!

Red Chile Sauce

  • 1 ancho chile, seeds removed

  • 2 dried chile arbol

  • 4 plum tomatoes

  • 1/2 medium white onion

  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled

  • ½ cup vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons orange juice, feel free to use fresh oranges and add pulp

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • salt

Parsley Sauce

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • 1 cup parsley leaves with stems

  • 1 cup cilantro leaves with stems

  • ½ cup vegetable oil

  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • 1 tsp ground coriander

  • 3 black peppercorns, or 1 tsp ground black pepper

  • salt


mix in a bowl and use your hands to rub onto fish skin and interior. Stuff cavity with citrus and herbs.

  • Any bouillon seasoning, goya seasoning blend, Lowry's garlic salt blend, etc.

  • 1 tbsp minced garlic

  • salt

  • pepper

*Stuff inside of fish with lemons/lime juice and bunch herbs.

  • lemons/limes

  • green herbs (cilantro, parsley, basil, dill, mustard greens, etc.)



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