The Washington Post

Roasted Whole Fish

Roasted Whole Fish 3.000

Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Sep 6, 2018

One of the most foolproof ways to cook fish is to roast them whole, and once you learn how to fillet a whole roasted fish, you just might be hooked. Why roast with the head on? Because there is good meat around the collarbone and in the cheeks. It looks dramatic (even if you end up filleting the fish). And it's just easier to remove the head after the fish is cooked; it comes off with the skeleton.

Fish can vary widely in size and in flavor. Choose one (or two) that will fit on a standard baking sheet. Rockfish, snapper and branzino have firm, sweet, mild-tasting flesh, while oilier silver fish such as mackerel and pompano have a buttery, more assertive flavor.

It may help to have an instant-read thermometer and a thin fish spatula.

Read Domenica Marchetti's story for more on whole-fish roasting and to see step-by-step photos of the filleting process.

3 - 4

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 3-4 servings

  • One 2- to 3-pound whole fish, such rockfish (Maryland striped bass) or snapper; or two smaller fish, such as branzino, scaled, gutted and gills removed (with head, tail, fins left on)
  • About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or sliced paper-thin
  • Large handful of mixed fresh herb sprigs, such as marjoram, parsley, oregano, thyme, fennel fronds and/or dill
  • 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Place the fish on a cutting board, and pat the cavity dry with a paper towel. Use a sharp knife to cut three deep (to the bone), diagonal slits on both sides of the fish. Rub the inside and outside of the fish with 2 tablespoons of the oil, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.

Sprinkle the garlic into the cavity of the fish and stuff in a handful of the herb sprigs, reserving some for plating. Slice half of the lemon into thin rounds. Place 3 rounds inside the cavity. Slide the remaining rounds into the three slits on the side of the fish facing up; you may have to cut the rounds into half-wheels to fit them.

Roast the fish, uncovered (middle rack), until the flesh is just firm and flaky, for 20 to 25 minutes for a 2-pound fish, or until its interior temperature registers between 130 and 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let it rest for 5 minutes.

Now comes the fun part: carving the fish. Have a clean serving plate at the ready. First, remove the pin bones along the back of the fish by cutting away the dorsal fin — follow the line of the fish’s back from just below the head to the tail and scrape away the seam of fin and bones. (Tweezers are a good tool for removing pin bones.)

Next, separate the head and collarbone from the top fillet, following the natural line where they meet and cutting about halfway through the fish. Separate the top fillet from the tail in the same way. If you want to leave the top fillet whole, slide a long spatula (there’s a reason those flimsy metal fish spatulas exist) under the top fillet to separate the meat from the spine. Carefully flip the fillet onto the serving platter so that it is skin side down.

Alternatively, cut the top fillet in half lengthwise, slicing down the length of the fish with a knife to separate the dorsal meat from the belly meat. Then flip each long piece of fillet carefully onto the serving plate so that both pieces are skin sides down. Remove any pin bones along the way as you work.

Starting at the tail, gently pull up and remove the fish’s skeleton. The head should come off with it. Scrape away the garlic, herbs and lemon slices and remove any bones from the bottom fillet. Cut that fillet in half lengthwise, if you like, and transfer the pieces, skin sides down, to the serving platter.

Drizzle a little oil over the fillets, and squeeze the reserved lemon half over them. Garnish the platter with reserved herb sprigs, and serve.

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Recipe Source

From cookbook author and food writer Domenica Marchetti.

Tested by Domenica Marchetti.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (based on 4): 170

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 8g 12%

Saturated Fat: 2g 10%

Cholesterol: 40mg 13%

Sodium: 340mg 14%

Total Carbohydrates: 0g 0%

Dietary Fiber: 0g 0%

Sugar: 0g

Protein: 22g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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