Grilled whole fish. One of the most elegantly simple way to serve seafoods, yet so intimidating and easy to fuck up. A little too much conoodling on the grill or in the oven, the delicate flesh loses its supple reason to be desired. But leaving the party too early, the pale skin deters appetite. So here, if you will allow yourself some counterintuitive engineering, the perfect grilled whole fish is fuss-free and foolproof.
Whether it’s branzio, sea bass or snapper, have it thoroughly scaled and gutted, cleaned and pat dry. Rub the fish inside out with appropriate amount of sea salt and ground white pepper, then let it slightly “cure” if you will, and air-dry on a baking rack for one hour in the fridge. A process, often overlooked, that reduces excess liquid thus tightening and enhancing the texture of the flesh. Now pat the fish dry again, and reward its patience with a gentle rub of extra virgin olive oil on its skin and its cavity filled with your favorite herbs and couple slices of lemon. Place the fish on a baking rack set atop a baking sheet; the circulation of air is key.
Now place it all into a cold oven. Yes, cold oven. Close the door and set to preheat on 300 F/150 C. Strange, yes, but not really, when you realize that this method allows the delicate fish to slowly warm up, evenly and thoroughly, to reach its optimal doneness with minimal risk of overcooking in such low temperature. Once the oven finishes preheating, odds are the fish is also perfectly done. Relax because you can always check to see if the flesh easily separates from the bone. If not, back in the oven for another 10, 15 minutes or so.
Regarding the crispy aspiration of the skin, this is where the fun part begins. Hover a blow-torch in a generous distance to the skin with a circular motion, and watch, in glee, the surface slowly blisters, hisses, cracks and crisps up to a beautifully charred landscape. It’s so satisfying you’d want to keep going even when the transition is finished, but guess what, there’s the other side, too.
Serve immediately with wedges of lime and garlic thyme infused olive oil. Do six at once for weekends or just one for yourself after work. You’ll be equally happy.