Master the art of the perfect whole fish. Master the art of the perfect whole fish. Master the art of the perfect whole fish.

If you really want to enjoy the flavors of a great fish, you've got to cook it whole.

Bonus: A big fish stuffed with aromatics, glistening with olive oil, makes for a gorgeous summery presentation.

The technique sounds a bit intimidating, but it's actually easy to master: Look for a black sea bass that's big enough to feed two. Rub it all over with Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, herbs and tangerine zest. Then cook it quickly on a hot grill. It's so spicy and awesome and satisfying, you could easily cook this dish for steak enthusiasts.

The key to success is picking a fresh fish, preparing it for a deep infusion of flavor and getting it off the grill without a mess. Here's everything you need for perfect whole fish cookery.

sectionfold WHAT YOU NEED

1. A well-oiled grill basket holds the fish and its seasonings together and protects the skin from sticking to a hot grill.

2. Look for a fresh bass that weighs 1½ pounds--the right size for two people. Before marinating it, dry it off with paper towels and score each side with three ¼-inch-deep cuts so the seasonings reach right down and the meat cooks evenly.

3. Our favorite aromatics for bass include marjoram and savory, tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns and sweet tangerine zest. Hit the fish with a generous sprinkling of salt just before it goes on the grill.


4. A delicate, buttery Ligurian olive oil imparts a very gentle flavor to the fish and keeps it from sticking to the grill basket. Don't be stingy. Use the good stuff. Then drizzle a little more on at the table.

5. A traditional Japanese fish scaler easily removes whatever the fishmonger missed without damaging the delicate flesh underneath.

6. Our preference is for grilling over charcoal because of the unbeatable smoky flavor that it lends to the meat. 

7. Minced green garlic, if you can find it, adds another layer of flavor to this Sichuan-inspired fish recipe. 


sectionfold VIDEO
sectionfold RECIPE

Grilled Black Sea Bass with Cucumber and Cilantro Salad

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 38 minutes

  • For the Grilled Fish:

    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling basket

    1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, finely chopped

    1 teaspoon minced green garlic (or regular garlic)

    1 teaspoon minced fresh savory

    1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram or oregano

    1 teaspoon tangerine or orange zest

    1½ pounds black sea bass, scaled and cleaned

    Salt, to taste

    For the Cucumber and Cilantro Salad:

    1 cup thinly peeled, sliced cucumber

    1 cup loosely packed cilantro

    ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions

    1 Thai chile, thinly sliced on the diagonal

    2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

    1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

    ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

    ¼ teaspoon sesame oil

    Salt, to taste


1. Make the grilled fish: Put fish on a cutting board and cut three ¼-inch-deep slits into both sides of the fish. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, savory and marjoram. Using your hands, rub the herb oil and tangerine zest all over the fish and inside the cavity. Transfer fish to the refrigerator to marinate for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-hot grilling. Remove the fish from the refrigerator and season with salt. Transfer to a grill basket that has been brushed with olive oil.

3. Grill the fish, flipping once, until the skin is crispy and the fish is cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove the fish from the grill basket and transfer to a large platter.

4. Make the cucumber and cilantro salad: In a medium bowl, combine the cucumber, cilantro, scallions, Thai chile, vinegar, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil. Season with salt and toss. Place the salad around the fish and serve immediately.

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