If you like fish that's moist, succulent, and unbelievably easy, roasting whole is the way to go. It not only makes an impressive presentation, but also requires almost no prep work-especially if you ask a fishmonger to help. (Request a fish that's cleaned and scaled, with no gills or fins.) Then just add aromatics such as sliced lemons or fresh herbs and you'll have a meal that's flavorful from the inside out.
Catch of the Day
The availability of whole fish varies from coast to coast. If you live in the Pacific Northwest you can easily find whole wild salmon, whereas snapper is probably more prevalent in the Southeast and trout in the Northeast. Other common catches include bass, pompano, tilapia, and rockfish. Look for whole fish at seafood markets, specialty stores, or even supermarkets and membership warehouses.
• Choose fresh-smelling fish with shiny skin and firm flesh. Eyes should be clear, bright, and bulging.
• A whole fish can serve one to six people. Plan on about one pound per person.
• Fish should be cleaned, trimmed of fins, rinsed, and patted dry.
• Whole fish in the 1- to 2-pound range fit most baking pans. For 3- to 4-pound fish, use a roasting pan at least 18 inches long. If needed, lay the fish diagonally in the pan to gain a few extra inches of space. The head and tail can overhang slightly as long as the fish can lie somewhat flat to ensure even cooking.
• Cover the pan loosely with foil to ensure maximum moistness. Or roast uncovered to produce a crisp exterior and tender flesh with concentrated flavor.
• A whole fish is done when the eyes have turned white and the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Figure on 15 minutes of cooking time for the first pound, plus five to 10 minutes for each additional pound.