Lemon and Herb Grilled Whole Rockfish

As the weather warms with hints of summer’s imminent arrival, you might find yourself itching for a reason to enjoy more of your meals outside. I’ve certainly found myself drawn to the grill more and more as of late, and in this case, I wanted a simple meal that felt more…provençal?

I prepared this meal with one of my absolute favorite fish dishes in mind. Preparation is wonderfully simple: start with a whole fish and stuff the belly cavity with as much in the way of aromatics as you can possibly fit in there, oil the fish generously, and grill it until cooked through. This is the kind of dinner that costs you at most 10 minutes of effortful time, and after that, all you need to do is wait. The flavors are clean and delightful–a clean brininess, smoke tinges from the grill, and perfume of lemon, thyme, and rosemary throughout, all intermingled on delicate, moist flakes of white fish.

I enjoyed this meal out on the deck alongside some grilled young carrots, asparagus, and a hearty salad. This is also one of those meals where I would consider a nice rosé (I’m always partial to those from Côtes du Rhône) an almost essential pairing.

  • 1 whole rockfish (mine was ~3 lbs and yielded approximately 3 servings)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1-2 lemons
  • 1/2 sweet/yellow onion
  • handful fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary

Step one: acquire and clean your fish. This means you need to remove the scales, trim the fins, and gut the belly area. Ideally, you can convince your fish monger/grocery store to do this for you.

Next, very generously oil the fish inside and out. As you warm your grill up to a very high temperature, you should rub the grates with oil–fish can have a tendency to stick to your grill, but a little preparation can make all the difference.

With everything nice and slick, the next thing you should apply liberally to your fish (also inside and out): salt. This is one of those use-more-than-you-think situations–it brings out the briny flavor of the fish in a great way and makes that crisp skin all the more enjoyable in the finished dish. Add some black pepper inside the belly cavity.

Now, chop up your lemon(s) in slices and the onion into pieces. Stuff this along with the herbs into the belly cavity. Expect this to be slightly overflowing–this is fine.

Finally, its time to put the fish on the grill. You will want to cook this over indirect heat, so while you wanted the grill nice and hot, you don’t want the fish sitting directly over the flame as the skin will burn, things will stick, and it will get messy well before the meat is cooked through.

The fish will need approximately 10 minutes of grill time per inch of thickness (internal temperature should reach approximately 145°F) and the fish should only be flipped once. For me, this required approximately 30 minutes cooking time in total.

Once done grilled, I squeezed a bit more lemon juice on the fish and grated a bit more black pepper on the skin. After that, serve your guests and yourself table-side by simply sliding a spatula in under the gill area and working in a semi-circular motion (don’t plate the aromatics–they’ve served their purpose). A filet should somewhat cleanly present itself you will be able to serve the top half of the fish with ease. Also, don’t forget to pick through the posterior and the cheeks for some more good meat.


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