Grilling fish filets is tricky business. First, there's the inevitable sticking issue. Second, it's really hard to nail that just-cooked-through-but-not-yet-dry texture. Instead, grill it whole. And once you do, put it to work in some tacos.
Why It WorksWhole grilled fish tastes best picked with your fingers. Read the Whole Story
- Grilling the fish whole makes it easier to prevent sticking and also produces juicier, tastier end results.
- Aromatics stuffed inside and rubbed on the outside of the fish give it tons of flavor.
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground ancho chili powder
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon or 2 limes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 (1 1/2 pound) whole fish such as mullet, branzino, porgy, or sea bass, scaled and gutted
- 1 whole lemon or lime, thinly sliced, plus 1 lemon or lime cut into wedges
- 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves plus 8 to 12 whole cilantro stems
- 1/4 cup sliced scallions
- 1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, sliced or minced
- 1 small cucumber, half thinly sliced, half cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 recipe Pico de Gallo
- Warm corn tortillas for serving
Combine cumin, chili powder, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons lime or lemon juice in a small bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Rub fish all over with mixture. Stuff fish with lime or lemon slices and whole sprigs of cilantro. Set aside.
Combine minced cilantro, scallions, Serrano chili, remaining quarter cup olive oil, and remaining tablespoon lemon or lime juice in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine diced cucumber with pico de gallo and set aside.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
Set fish over hot side of grill and cook until bottom side is browned, about 5 minutes. Using a carving fork, insert tines between grill grate and under fish. Carefully attempt to lift fish from below; if it resists, allow to cook for 1 more minute and try again. When fish lifts easily from grill, turn onto other side and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 135°F, about 5 minutes longer; if skin begins to char before fish is cooked through, transfer fish to cooler side of grill to finish cooking. Let rest 5 minutes. While fish cooks, warm corn tortillas directly over the hot side of the grill, flipping them as soon as they start to char slightly and stacking them under a kitchen towel as they finish cooking in order to keep them moist.
Transfer fish to a serving platter and spoon the scallion/cilantro mixture on top. Garnish with cucumber slices and lemon or lime wedges. Serve immediately with hot tortillas and cucumber pico de gallo. Diners should make their own tacos, picking the meat out of the fish and topping with pico de gallo and lime as they go.