Fish Friday: The fish, the whole fish and nothing but the fish

Decades ago, my husband purchased a whole smoked whitefish for breakfast. It was the first time I’d seen an entire fish in such close proximity, and first thing in the morning, too.

So I understand those with Fear of Fish, and even some experienced cooks, who shy away from cooking an entire fish. I had never cooked a whole fish until I was working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.” I knew I had to include something on cooking whole fish, and many people – from chefs to adventurous friends – had told me that it was easy and I’d love the results. Also, Thai and other Asian cuisines routinely cook whole fish in various ways, so it’s an important skill for exploring those styles of cooking.

I did it, and all I have to say is: I shouldn’t have waited so long. Neither should you. It was indeed easy and produced some of the most moist, flavorful fish I’ve ever eaten. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because chefs always say that meat cooked with the bone – bone-in chicken, for example, rather than boneless chicken breast – has much more flavor. And that’s true. Why shouldn’t it be true for fish as well?

Fish markets typically sell cleaned whole fish, which means anything inside that you don’t want has been conveniently removed for your cooking pleasure. Look for whole fish that appear moist, not dried out, and with firm flesh.

When you get the fish home, you can follow instructions in “Carolina Catch” for simple roasted whole fish stuffed with herbs and ginger. All the equipment you need is a baking sheet and oven. There’s also a recipe for Thai-style whole fried fish that uses a wok. Whole sea bass, snapper and flounder are good choices.

Carving the cooked fish for serving is easy. With a knife and spatula, the top filet will lift right off, then the bones can be pulled out of the lower half of the fish. I have detailed instructions in the “Best Basics” section of the book.

So, go whole fish! To learn more and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.