I was explaining to someone that when I grew up, fish didn’t have bones.  It didn’t come with a head, fins or eyes.  The first time I was served a whole fish was the first time I left the United States, in Mexico (I still remember that huachinango veracruzana), and I asked that Tim remove the offending components before we ate any of it.  Little did I know that less than four short years separated me from moving to a region where I would quickly learn to go from this to this, and would end up vying with my colleagues, pushing their chopsticks aside over the best bit of the fish (not the cheek or eye socket as some say, but the very fleshy and relatively bone-free end of the fish, near the tail).  Here in Penang, I cook a whole fish about once a week.  Bought fresh at the market, I usually choose red snapper (about $5) or mackerel ($3 for a big one, less for a couple tinies).  The fish monger will remove the scales, gills and innards, gesture about filleting it and then wrap it in newspaper while I shake my head.

This recipe is one of our favorite ways to eat whole fish.  Broiling the fish takes 10 minutes, tops, and the salsa is made from stuff I always have in the fridge (except lately for olives, which are Miles’ favorite and end up as meal-finishing rewards, or as part of Tim’s homemade MexMarts).  We all love it.  If you have never cooked a whole fish, I can highly recommend it.  It is easy, and the flesh stays nice and moist, almost as if it were steamed, but with more flavor.  Add a grain (quinoa is nice), a steamed veg and it’s a meal.

Broiled Whole Fish with Celery-Olive-Raisin Salsa (another Ottolenghi)

  • One whole Red Snapper or large Mackerel or several small Mackerels, scaled and cleaned, rinsed and patted dry.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 stalks celery, with leafy parts if you have it, diced, leaves chopped
  • 1/4 cup green olives, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp capers
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1/4 cup parsley or cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey or agave nectar
  • splash olive juice (instead of salt)
  1. Preheat broiler and place oven rack up high.
  2. Slice deep gashes in each side of the fish all the way down to the bone, about 3 per side, angling your knife diagonally towards the head.
  3. Generously salt and pepper the skin, inside the gashes, and in the cavity.
  4. Place the fish on a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet, and place in the oven.
  5. After 5 minutes, flip the fish.
  6. Five minutes again, check inside of the the center gashes to see if the fish is cooked.  If not, return to oven for 2 more minutes and check again, flipping if necessary.
  1. For Salsa, combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Rest 20 minutes for flavors to meld.
  2. Store in the fridge up to over night and allow to come to room temp before serving.

Notes: To remove fish from the bone, slowly pick up the fish from the tail end, bending the bone as you go.  Use a small knife to help the fillet start to separate from the bones, and pull all the way to the head until the meat is off.  Repeat other side.  There are some tiny bones near the upper fin, located in a strip of meat that usually separates from the main fillets.  You could just chuck this tiny bit, but if you are patient, this is some tender juicy meat once you have picked out the bones.  Also check for the long, sharp rib bones near the open cavity.  You should be left with a head-spine-tail fish fragment that looks just like the ones found in cartoon trash heaps, and a whole plate full of delicious fish.