5 Tried & Tested Tips You Need To Grill Whole Fish At Home
Image Credit: These tips will help you grill whole fish at home like a pro.

Have you ever tried grilling whole fish at home? It can be quite a trying experience, especially if you’re doing it for the first time or aren’t a pro at it. Whether you do it over the barbecue, in an over or over a grill pan, nailing the cook on every bit of the entire fish is anything but easy. There are too many variables at play, from the right prepping techniques to the right marinate. Temperature always plays a key role, and so does the cooking technique you’re using.  

But, truth be told, nothing compares with the joy of grilling a whole fish to perfection and presenting it to your family or friends over that weekend lunch or dinner. So, if your weekend plans include wowing your guests with a piece de resistance that is whole grilled fish, then here’s everything you need to know.  

Tip 1: Know which fish to grill

There are many varieties of fish available in the market. Some are best eaten as fillets, most are cooked in curry-cut form. But when it comes to grilling whole fish, there are few that work best depending on your needs. Pomfret is perhaps the easiest fish to pick, but you’ll have to grill as many as there are mouths to feed because it’s a relatively small fish. The same applies to sardines, which taste great when grilled. If you’re looking to reduce your workload by grilling one or two fish to feed the entire family, then go for a mid-sized roopchand or mackerel. These fish varieties are bigger, meatier and though they will take longer to cook, your ultimate servings will spell large-heartedness and homely warmth. 

Tip 2: Pick your weapon of choice

The right equipment is the key to proper fish grilling. The fact is, cooking over a barbecue looks fancy, but controlling the temperature and getting an even cook on a whole fish—or every fish if you’re cooking many pomfrets—can be a tough call. Grilling your fish in an oven is quite easy, because you can check the temperature and regulate the top or bottom rods to get the cooking right. Getting a large grilling pan is perhaps the best way to go with Indian kitchens. Every home has a stove top, so investing in a grill pan is a good idea—and works for more dishes than just grilled whole fish. A sturdy pair of tongs is a must-have if you’re looking to grill any meat or fish at home. So is investing in a few big trays on which you can prep the fish. Needless to say, sharp knives are a regular kitchen necessity and they’ll come in handy here too. 

Tip 3: Prepping the fish right helps 

Grilling a fish not only means gutting, cleaning and washing it right, but also putting well-placed cuts on it. We do live in times where food contamination and stomach issues due to it are pretty common, so opt for fresh fish when you want to grill them. While buying the fish, make sure the gills are pink and the eyes are sparkly—two sure-shot signs of freshness every Bengali will tell you to look out for. If you’re too squeamish to clean the fish yourself, ask your local fish vendor to do it right for you. Most online fish vendors, however, will do it right for you—so if you are willing to spend some cash, use it to buy fresh fish online. Always use a sharp knife to make slits on the fish. These slits help soak in the spices, distribute heat properly, and the ultimate grilled fish always looks pretty. 

Tip 4: Choose the right marinate and fats

The simplest of grilled whole fish can be marinated with salt and pepper. However, the Indian palate always looks for more spices. So, ingredients like turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, cinnamon and other spice blends—like the Maharashtrian Goda Masala or Malwani Masala, and South Indian Chettinad spices, or even Mediterannean spice blends like Ras Al-Hanout—can be used for the marinate. A simple ginger-garlic paste can always elevate the taste of fish, so add that. Grilling requires you to add some fats to the marinate itself, which can help the fish skin sizzle and add that smokey flavour. Ghee, mustard oil and butter are good choices, but stay away from cream and curd in the marinate. Cream and curd have a higher risk of splitting during the grilling process, and nobody likes tasting burnt milk solids in any dish. 

Tip 5: The temperature needs to be right

Experts will tell you that grilling should only be done at very high heat. But the thing is, fish cooks quickly and if you’re not a pro at grilling, the risk of burning the fish—or worse, undercooking it—is high. So, if you’re grilling the whole fish over a pan, then use a medium flame throughout. Cooking over a grill pan will also give you the best amount of control over the temperature, so I’d once again recommend you use this method over any other unless you have mastered them. Once again, since fish cooks quickly, grilling a medium-sized fish over a medium flame should not take more than 20 minutes of your time. 

Remember, a grilled whole fish is a dish in itself. You may top it with some lemon juice and serve it with some chutney, but knowing what sides to serve is important. A filling side salad can make the grilled whole fish a complete meal by itself. If you are pairing it with rice, opt for a pulao.