Grilled Whole Fish with Chili Soy Dipping Sauce

Slideshow shows step by step: how to grill whole fish:

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I have yet to go fishing in the local waters here, well okay maybe I need to count the time I friend Judy took me and the kids to the state park. We used squirmy worms as bait on their kiddie fishing poles and caught fish so small it was probably from someone else’s bait bucket.


But there’s all sorts of delish fish in these Tampa Bay waters and I was lucky enough to bump into fisherman Phillip hauling a coolerful of Black Mullet, Silver Mullet and Bluefish from that morning’s outing. I was so excited that I bought one of each. I should have just paid Phillip an extra $5 to scale them for me, because scaling three fish in my kitchen sink is not the most fun thing to do. Slippery, transparent fish scales ricocheting off the knife and flying into my eyes totally sucked. At the end of it, I looked like a blind Loch Ness monster.

When I published this recipe in my Tampa Tribune column, I got several emails from readers saying they thought my photo of the whole fish with its face was really creepy. REALLLLLY!??? Well, you know us Asians, we like to eat every part of our food, nothing goes to waste, which means head and tail. I seriously can’t believe that so many people are weirded out by looking at their food.

Have we become so McProcessed that we have forgotten where our food comes from and what it looks like?

Grilled Whole Fish with Chili Soy Dipping Sauce

The type of fish they use is really up to you. I love grilling whole red snapper or anything locally caught. The Bluefish was the perfect size to feed my family of four and I decided to grill it whole on the outdoor grill. Having a fish grill basket really helps keep the fish intact and all of the herbs inside the fish. The last thing you want is your precious fish break and fall through the grill grates! I found the perfect sized basket at Sur La Table for $25.00. You can use any fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, parsley, dill. for my recipe, I used sliced ginger, sliced key lime, green onions and kaffir lime leaves that grow in my garden.serves 4 as part of a multicourse meal

Whole fish, scaled and gutted (one 3-5 lb fish or two 1-1/2 lb fish)
cooking oil, for brushing
salt and pepper
Big handful of fresh herbs
2 lemons/limes or 1 orange
3 inch section of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
additional lemon or lime wedges for the table

For the Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 to 1 fresh chili pepper, sliced thinly (depends on your heat preference)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Pre-heat your outdoor grill. Clean the fish inside and out, and pat very dry. Cut 3-4 vertical slashes to the bone on each side of the fish. Brush the fish inside and out with cooking oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the fish with the fresh herbs, citrus slices and ginger slices inside the fish and tuck them inside the slashes.

Place the fish inside a fish grill basket and close the basket. Grill for 6-8 minutes on direct heat (covered) then flip the basket and grill another 6-8 minutes (covered). The fish is done when it flakes easily at the thickest part of the fish.

To make the dipping sauce, heat a small sauce pot over medium high heat. Add the cooking oil and when hot, add the garlic and the chili peppers. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce and sugar and let cook for another 15 seconds. Serve the sauce with lemon/lime wedges with the fish.


Other great fish posts

Sheephead fish Fish so ugly only a grill can love (video – CBS)

sesame-seared-tuna_090420__033_web Sesame Seared Tuna with Lime Ginger Vinaigrette

Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup by Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia

Fried Catfish with Ginger Lime Dipping Sauce

Steamed Fish Balls Dim Sum

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Comments 28

  1. Dana McCauley

    My son loves to fish and often catches exactly that size of critter. At least it keeps him busy, right?

    I love grilling fish – yours looks fantastic! – and I’ve recently discovered using cedar wrapping sheets to protect the outside of the fish from the harsh temperature of the grill. Have you tried them?

    To be honest, I haven’t seen ones large enough for a whole fish like you’ve cooked here.

  2. MyLastBite

    ” you know us Asians, we like to eat every part of our food, nothing goes to waste, which means head and tail”

    When I lived in Okinawa as a kid, my sister and I used to FIGHT over the eyeballs. Our oba-chan used to remind us that the fish came with two, one for each of us.

  3. Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets)

    hahaha… i think it might be the rest of us easterners… in the middle east we eat all the parts as well. We eat intestines, balls, raw liver… brains, i’m sure there are other “cuts” i’ve missed. YUMMMY! yea tis sad but you hit it on the nail “McProcessed”. Lovely photo as always!

  4. Peter

    I prefer whole fish and I always recommend people buy whole fish to inspect for freshness and for a better eating (moister) and tastier experience.

    Jaden, I think you’ve covered all those facets…yum!

  5. rose

    Looks delicious! I’ve been wanting to grill whole fish for a while now! Thanks for the recipe 🙂 Love your website!!

  6. Dawn in CA

    Don’t listen to those crazy people who prefer not to know what they are really eating! I absolutely LOVE seeing the whole fish. Plus, it tastes so much better if it’s cooked with the bones in. Whenever we visit other countries, that seems to be the norm; not sure why Americans are so squemish. I always think people are a bit strange when they won’t eat meat/fish unless it is boneless/skinless (and flavorless).

  7. matt

    Great post. I love grilling a whole fish, especially serving it to unaccustomed guests (as I eat the eyeball..)

    Seriously though – some fantastic looking fish.. er, apart from that last shot of your fillet job….

  8. Diana

    That’s so funny! In Senegal they brought us lunch one day and when they uncovered the giant bowl you share with 5 other people, on top of the couscous and vegetables were several whole fish about 8 inches long. The other Americans immediately covered their bowls back up, but Eric and I were sharing ours with Africans and so just watched how they ate it and followed their example. Those were some of the best fish we ever had! People can be a little silly sometimes, but I’m guilty of my own weirdness too.

  9. The Single Guy

    I don’t even blink when I see a whole fish come to a table at a restaurant. I think it’s totally natural. I don’t get it too why others would be weirded out by it. It’s not like someone is forcing them to eat the eyeball or something. (Oh, was that a recommendation you wrote in your column? Ugh, then maybe I can understand. 😉

    This dish looks so beautiful and healthy. Looks perfect for summer.

  10. Lizzie

    Well, the body of the whole fish looks delicious, but I’m embarrassed to say that the face is a bit gruesome to me. That little teeny weeny fish the kids caught, however, is CUTE!

  11. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy

    That fish looks a little pissed off. Of course, I probably would too if I were squeezed in a metal basket and barbecued! The Walt’s by me gets tons of beautiful whole snapper, sheepshead, etc. on the weekends. They usually save me the heads, but I’ll have to break down and buy a whole one to try this.

  12. Cakebrain

    you know, that looks delish! I notice the eyeball is still there…apparently it’s the tastiest tidbit along with the cheeks! Pretty soon they’ll be serving it in high end restaurants, I’m sure. Halibut cheeks have already made their way there. Fish eyeballs will soon follow! I’m sure it’s good for you too! the Tampa readers sound like foodie bumpkins to me ;p

    i’ll have a deep fried eyeball please! ~jaden

  13. Jorge


    You rock

    we make a similar grilled fish here in mexico, called “pescado sarandeado” (flapping fish, has to do with all that flipping when grilling), except we stuff it with onions and chiles and baste it continuously with homemade hot sauce. Just beautiful.

  14. Jorge

    Just take 3 or 4 large, stemmed, ancho peppers; 2 large seeded tomatoes and 2 large tomatillos (not green tomatoes) and boil them in 3 cups of claer chicken stock for about 15 minutes, then blend them with their liquid and 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 of an onion, a teaspoon of coriander seeds, a tablespoon of oregano and salt.

    brush the fish inside and out with the sauce and stuf with large chunks of onion and red jalapeños or serranos and grill in a basket, turning constantly to baste with more sauce as it burns on the fish

    Alternatively, you can wrap it in aluminum foil and grill untouched for about 45 minutes, then transfer to a plate and bathe in smoking hot oil, like some other steamed fih recipe you’ve posted, covered jullienned scallions. Instant Mexican-asian fusion

    I make it at least once a month

  15. Carrie Oliver

    That fish & recipe look fabulous! We’re always on a quest for new recipes and even found a reasonable decent fishmonger (though 25 miles away). This one goes on the menu later this week. ps What were you thinking to scale on your own 😉

  16. Giff

    I’ve caught bluefish almost every summer of my life, but I’ve never grilled it whole like you have here. Looks delicious. Sadly, I’m not going to be able to get any fishing time in this summer, but I’m going to try this on another type fish (I only really like bluefish when it’s really fresh)

    what is bluefish like when not fresh? i was going to fillet and freeze. bad idea? ~j

  17. Alta

    I have been kinda scared, I admit, to tackle cooking a whole fish. However, like you, I do kinda suck at filleting. (I once bought a bunch of whole tilapia and ended up with a whole lot of meat left on the bones! Good for fish stock though!) Thank you so much for the step-by-step…I’m gonna have to get a fish basket thingy and grill a whole fish! Now, where to find the freshest fish in land-locked Dallas? Maybe at the Asian market, where they’re still swimming in the tank?

    Thanks Jaden!

  18. Rxgator

    Yeah, I just don’t get the apprehension about the whole fish thing either. I grew up with Mom bringing a whole steamed fish to the diiner table. IMHO, fish prepared whole tastes better. Plus, how else are you supposed to tell the fish is fresh or that you are getting what you are supposed to get? I agree that prepping the fish personally such as scaling can be messy. Be sure to ask the fishmonger to scale the fish and clean out the guts.

    Plus, its an opportunity to develop a relationship and support a local business instead of getting a frozen filet at your supermarket.

  19. Gardeninguy

    WOW! One look at the pic and I had to check out the recipe. I grew up on fish we caught, not to mention bullfrogs, crawdads (or crayfish, if you prefer), a huge snapping turtle here and there, etc, etc. I knew that the cheeks of most fish of any size are the filet mignon, or medallions of fish but have never indulged in eyes before. Tails and fins occasionally, but never eyes. I’ve also steered clear of any type of sauces because unlike those poor unfortunates who don’t like fish (poor, wretched creatures), I love the taste and don’t want it overpowered. My wife doesn’t like for me to leave the heads on fish so I have to cook it myself in order to have it. Then I get the heads off her fish. I’m doin’ this one soon as I find a place with good, fresh fish or if I manage (yeah, I wish) to catch a big one myself.

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