Recently, I tried something new and terrifying in the kitchen: I cooked a whole fish. I didn’t set out to do this; I had plans of grilling tuna steaks or maybe sea bass. You know, something that tastes like a fish but doesn’t look like one. Somehow, though, everything went awry, and when I left the grocery store I had an entire mackerel and no idea what to do with it.
In theory, cooking a fish whole should not be any more complicated than cooking a cut of fish. In fact, since filets are easy to overcook and prone to falling apart during the cooking process, I’d even venture to say that it should be easier. The problem is the face. I’m not even good about eating things that still have their heads attached and/or have bones in them, let alone cooking them like that. Every summer, I go on a fishing trip to northern Wisconsin with a group of friends, and we more or less eat whatever we catch. I’m afraid of putting the worm on the hook and of taking the fish off the hook, so I think it goes without saying that when it comes time to turn our catch into dinner, I’m quick to either hide or offer to make potatoes or some other dish that isn’t looking back at me.
Unfortunately, I had no one to pawn the fish part of dinner off on this time, so I was stuck Googling “how to grill whole fish.” Fortunately, it turns out that a lot of other people have faced the same predicament. It also helps that most grocery stores clean and gut the fish for you. It’s much easier to look the fish in the eye when you’re not the one who removed all the less-delicious parts from inside it. In the end, it took less than ten minutes to prep the mackerel. I spent more time staring at it and worrying that everything would be a disaster, proving that I should probably save my anxiety for the day someone forces me to actually gut a fish. Or put the worm on the hook myself. They’re probably both equally scarring experiences.
Grilled Mackerel with Citrus
Whole mackerel, cleaned, gutted, etc. (Mine was about 2lbs, which will feed 2-3 people)
¼ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Oregano to taste
1. Set grill to medium high heat. Using a sharp knife, cut 3-4 slits into each side of the fish
2. Whisk together olive oil and juice from ½ of the lemon and ½ of the lime. Brush over outside of fish and into the stomach cavity, making sure the mixture gets inside the side slits.
3. Generously salt and pepper each side of the fish and sprinkle with oregano. Pat lightly to make sure that the spices stick to the fish. Do the same with the stomach cavity.
4. Slice 2 rounds each from the lemon and lime and place inside the stomach cavity.
5. Cook fish directly on the grill rack or in a grilling basket for about 10 minutes on each side. Be careful when turning the fish, as the skin can stick, and check for doneness as cooking time will vary with the size of the fish and heat of the grill.