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  • Writer's pictureIldiko

The Art of Whole Fish! 🐟

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Such a familiar sight in the fish markets of Athens! 'Off with its head!' is what I commonly used to tell my fishmonger when asked how he should prepare my whole fish. I simply didn't want it looking at me! But after numerous trips to Greece and countless fresh, WHOLE fish dinners, I find that I am no longer insisting on the head and tail to be removed. Greeks, for that matter, INSIST that the cheeks and jowls on the head are 'the best part' of the fish. While I haven't quite bought into that 'propaganda', I am appreciating the tasty benefits of keeping it WHOLE!

If you live along the coast, then you are very lucky, as fresh fish markets are abundant. But even living inland in Louisville, Kentucky I am able to get fresh whole fish, daily, at our grocery stores. (Supposedly, we have our UPS hub to thank for that convenience.) Certainly, there are some large fish varieties that simply don't lend themselves to being prepared whole. Large fish like Tuna, Salmon, and Swordfish, for example, need to be fileted or sliced crosswise into steaks. But smaller fish like Red Snapper, Bronzino, and Trout are PERFECT for preparing whole. Of these, my favorite fish type is Bronzino for it is a flaky, white fish with a light, buttery flavor. It is also known as Mediterranean Sea Bass and is pictured in the first intro photo. Ubiquitous to the Mediterranean waters around Greece, Turkey, and Italy it is a commonly served fish at restaurants in those countries. Of course, there are many Mediterranean fish varieties available in Greece that we simply don't have access to in the USA. In Greece, the waiter will typically present the prepared whole fish to the customer, filet it at the tableside, and serve it with a lemon-olive oil mixture. Check out the video below, which I made on the island of Kefalonia, Greece while visiting there this summer.

When prepared WHOLE, the fish retains its MOISTURE as it remains enveloped within its skin and nestled around the bone. Simply ask your fishmonger to gut it, clean it, and scale it. Once home, season it to YOUR liking and either roast it in the oven or grill it outside. Either way, you won't be disappointed. I'll share two whole fish preparations to provide ideas, but you can flavor it to accommodate your taste.

Oven-roasted Bronzino


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large garlic cloves, rough chop

Fresh thyme

2 whole Bronzinos

1-2 medium potatoes, sliced

1-2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1/2 cup artichoke hearts, quartered

2 Tbsp Greek olives, pitted and sliced

1 lemon

2 Tbsp Peruvian drop peppers

1 Tbsp Capers

dried oregano

salt & black pepper

Place 1/4 cup olive oil into a small bowl. Rough chop garlic clove and place into the olive oil. Add some fresh thyme leaves. Let it sit to make it aromatic.

Meanwhile, wash the Bronzino. Dry well by blotting with a paper towel.

Slice potatoes and tomatoes into thin 1/4" slices. Quarter the artichoke hearts, Pit, and thinly slice the Greek olives. Cut 1 lemon in half and thinly slice one half of it.

Drizzle a little of the aromatic olive oil into a 9"x13" roasting pan. Rub the olive oil on the skin on both sides of the fish as well as its fleshy inside. Season the outsides and the inside of the fish with salt, black pepper, and oregano. Lay some sprigs of thyme and lemon slices along the inside of the fish.

Lay the potato slices on the bottom of the roasting pan. Then lay the fish overtop the potatoes. Lay some tomato slices, artichoke quarters, olive slices, Peruvian drop peppers, and capers over the fish in the roasting pan. Drizzle with the remaining half lemon and aromatic olive oil.

Place into a pre-heated oven at 375 F. Roast for about 45 minutes.

Download Oven-roasted Bronzino recipe
Download PDF • 32KB

Grilled Red Snapper


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large clove of garlic, rough chopped

fresh thyme

Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning

lemon, cut into slices

Place 1/4 cup olive oil into a small bowl. Rough chop garlic clove and place into the olive oil. Add some fresh thyme leaves. Let it sit to make it aromatic.

Wash the Red Snapper well and dry by blotting with a paper towel.

Rub the aromatic olive oil on the skin on both sides of the fish and along its fleshy inside. Season it with the Cavender's Greek Seasoning. Squeeze some lemon on the inside of the fish. Lay lemon slices and fresh thyme inside the fish.

I like to place the prepped fish into a grilling basket, sprayed with olive oil, to prevent the fish from sticking to the grates and to facilitate easy flipping of the fish. I set the grill at medium-high. Once the grill is at temperature, place the basket on the grill. After about 10 minutes flip it over. Grill on the other side for several minutes more and check the temperature with a thermal probe. Pull the basket when the temperature in the most center of the fish is 140 F.

Carefully remove the fish from the basket and transfer it to a plate. Filet it. Thereafter, remove the head, bones, and tail. Then serve.

I served my Red Snapper with Greek Green Beans and Parmesan Truffle Fries. It turned out moist, flavorful, and yummy!

Download Grilled Red Snapper recipe
Download PDF • 26KB

If you are already buying and preparing your fish, WHOLE, then keep on enjoying it! If not, then I urge you to give it a try. I think you will be surprised by how moist and flavorful the fish will taste. You don't need to bathe it in elaborate sauces when preparing it whole. A little lemon and/or olive oil are all you may want to add, so as not to diminish the fish's delicious flavor.

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