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Get More Out of Your Fish by Cooking it Whole

Get More Out of Your Fish by Cooking it Whole

I’m a firm believer that cooking fish whole is a great way to create better tasting fish, with minimal extra effort. It’s not to say that seafood fillets aren’t great but cooking fish whole has some great advantages. For starters, the bones provide structure, especially on the grill, and they also help to retain moisture and flavor. In addition, the belly cavity of a whole fish can easily be filled with fresh ingredients and flavors that will permeate the entire fish with flavor.

We offer a variety of premium whole fish for you to choose from including many varieties that are pre-stuffed with fresh ingredients and ready for cooking. Each variety lends itself to unique flavors that accent and enhance the eating experience of each. Different varieties of whole fish are available seasonally, so check with your local Heinen’s Seafood Department to see what’s available today!

Popular Varieties of Whole Fish

Whole Fish Blog Interior

-Trout is best with earthy flavors of nuts, mushrooms, browned butter, roasted garlic, balsamic vinaigrette and green onions.

-Snapper is often used in Asian preparations and goes great with flavors like soy, ginger, garlic, coconut, chilies and sesame oil.

-Our chef’s use citrus to liven the flavor of this great warm water fish. Opt for soybean oil or canola oil when preparing.

-Seabass is great with fresh-from-the-garden ingredients. Try it with fresh tomatoes, garlic, peppers, onions, and fresh herbs.


Begin by gently patting dry the fish inside and out, then lay the fish down on a clean, dry cutting board and using a sharp chef’s knife, make diagonal slashes scoring across the fish at 1 inch intervals from the head to the tail. This scoring will allow the fish to cook more evenly and the flavors to better permeate the flesh throughout.

If you purchased a whole fish that is already stuffed, you’re ready to get cooking. If not, this is your opportunity to create a dish all your own by filling the fish with 1/3 – 1/2 cup of unique flavoring ingredients that complement the variety of fish that your using.

Next, season the outside of the fish on both sides with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper and rub the entire outside of the fish with olive oil.

If you choose to bake the fish in the oven, place the prepared fish on an foil lined, oiled sheet pan and top with an additional 1 – 1 1/2 cups of flavoring ingredients. If you’re planning to grill the fish, it’s best to skip this step.

Grilling or Baking

To bake, preheat your oven to 375 F. and bake for 20-25 minutes until the flesh is opaque and hot to the touch. (We recommend using a food thermometer to verify that the flesh is a minimum of 145 degrees F.).Whole Grilled Fish

If grilling, preheat your grill to high heat and be sure to clean and oil the grill grates liberally (it’s also a good idea to set the grill up with a hot zone and a cool zone so the fish can be moved depending on how quickly it’s cooking). Once hot, place your fish on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes being sure not to turn the fish until the skin no longer sticks. After 3-4 minutes, gently turn the fish and cook an additional 3-5 minutes until the flesh is opaque and is hot to the touch. (We recommend using a food thermometer to ensure that the fish is at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Carefully remove the fish from the grill by sliding a thin spatula underneath and gently lifting the fish off the grates. Place the grilled fish on a cutting board or cooking rack and top with an additional 1 – 1/2 cups of cooked flavoring ingredients or your favorite marinade.

Allow the fish to rest five to ten minutes.

Plating and Serving

Using a sharp knife, score the flesh where the fillet meets the head and tail, then locate the divide in the fillet along the backbone and gently slide a spatula or fork between the upper portion of the top fillet and the back bone moving from head to tail. Gently fold the loosened fillet toward the cavity and remove it from the backbone, set aside.

Gently pull the tail and backbone upward lifting the backbone away from the bottom fillet, then remove the head. Use a spoon to gently clean away any remaining bones or undesirable meat from both fillets.

To plate, move the bottom fillet to a serving platter and place it skin-side down, then top with the two halves of the top fillet, skin-side up. It’s a nice addition to fill the perimeter of the serving platter with fresh herbs or grilled lemon slices as a garnish or any accompaniment that you can think of.

What is your favorite way to prepare whole fish? We’d love to know your experiences, please share with us in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Heinen's Seafood Department

By Heinen's Seafood Department

In 1929, Joe Heinen opened the doors of a small butcher shop on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to establish himself as the city’s purveyor of quality meats. As customers came into Heinen’s new shop for their meat purchases, they began asking him to carry groceries as well. Joe added homemade peanut butter, pickles and donuts and by 1933, business had grown enough to include a line of produce and canned goods. Heinen’s Grocery Store was born.

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