Grilled whole trout is a great recipe if you prefer mild fish, or fish with a subtle flavor.
Like, say, my kids.
This is a very impressive presentation – serving a whole fish per person is quite a show. The only downside is the fish head – some people don’t like their dinner staring back at them.
You can always cut the head off if you’re squeamish. Or have your fishmonger do it for you.
For all that presentation value, it’s a simple recipe, and pretty foolproof – stuff the whole trout, only flip it once, carefully, and you’re done. Best of all, the result is a very hands-on meal – you have to remove the fish fillets from the skeleton, and while trained waiters can do this with only two spoons, for me it involves a playing with my food.
*Why just eat, when you can get your hands on the food?
- Grill (I used a Weber kettle, like this one.)
- Large spatula or fish turner (I like this spatula, and this fish turner).
- 2 Whole Trout, cleaned and scaled, bone-in, about 12 oz each
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 lemon, sliced thin
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs parsley
1. Prepare the grill: Prepare your grill for cooking with direct, medium-high heat, then clean with your grill brush. For my Weber kettle, I light a chimney starter* 3/4 full of charcoal, wait for it to be covered with ash, then pour it evenly over one side of the grill grate. This gives me half the grill on the heat, and half off the heat.
*I highly recommend the Weber Chimney Starter, because it is larger than most chimney starters. It holds 5 quarts of charcoal, which is exactly the right size for cooking this recipe.
**If cooking on a Gas grill, preheat to medium-high and cook with the lid closed. Other than that, follow the rest of the instructions.
2. Stuff the Trout: Meanwhile, pat the trout dry with paper towels, then sprinkle evenly inside and out with the salt and pepper. Open the trout’s cavity, and stuff with a layer of lemon slices, 2 sprigs of thyme and 2 sprigs of parsley.
3. Cook the Trout: Cook on direct medium-high heat for 6 minutes a side. Put the trout on the grill, over the heat, and cook, uncovered, for 5-6 minutes.* Don’t mess with the trout – leave it be. After 6 minutes, it should be well browned on the bottom. Carefully flip the trout, flipping over the backbone so you don’t dump the stuffing into the grill. Cook another 5-6 minutes, then check for doneness – peek in the cavity and make sure the trout is cooked in the very middle. Remove from the grill to a serving platter.
*The key to this recipe (and cooking fish in general) is not to mess with it – it tends to break apart. That’s why you want only one flip.
4. Serve the Trout: Serve the trout whole, with a wedge of lemon and some extra salt for adding at the table. See the notes for instructions on removing the bones from the trout.
Citrus: Oranges, lemons and limes all work well in this recipe, or use a mix.
Herbs: Different herbs also work well in this recipe. Use whatever you like! In the pictures, you can see the fennel fronds that I used, because I had some lying around.
Mexican style: Sprinkle the trout with Ground Ancho chile powder instead of the pepper. Stuff the trout with lime slices, thinly sliced onion, and sprigs of cilantro.
Fish camp style: Put two pieces of bacon between paper towels, and microwave for 1 minute. After stuffing the trout, wrap each with two slices of bacon. Cook as directed.
I like cooking this recipe with whole fish, scaled and gutted only, for three reasons. First, fish with the bones cook up juicier than fish that has been boned. Second, I like the presentation of a whole fish with the head on. It just looks good. Finally, as I said in the opening, I like the chance to play with my food, and I love to skin and bone my fish myself at the table.
But…if you want it easier, or can’t find bone-in fish, get two fillets (or a whole boned trout), put the stuffing between the fillets, and tie them shut with three pieces of butcher’s twine. Only cook for 5 minutes a side instead of six, because the fillets will cook quicker without the bones.
What do you do with that whole fish? Here’s the process for deboning:
- Cut the head off of the fish (I use a large spoon for all of these operations on the fish; with a cooked trout, you can cut with the edge and lift with the bowl of the spoon.)
- Peel the skin from the top of the fish (gently…)
- Run a spoon down the top of the spine, along the back of the fish, to separate the fillet from the spine.
- Gently work a spoon under the fillet, and lift the top fillet from the skeleton. If you lift gently but firmly, you will leave the bones of the skeleton behind, and have the top fillet in two or three large pieces.
- Using your spoon, cut the tail off of the fish. Then, grab the spine of the fish at the tail and, gently but firmly, lift it away from the bottom fillet. This will leave you with the bottom fillet intact.
- Lift the bottom fillet off of the skin (or, eat it as is.)
*That doesn’t make sense? Watch Alton Brown’s Hook, Line and Dinner episode to see how to do it. The serving demonstration starts at 8:10 into this video. It’s a bass, but the technique is the same for a trout, just smaller.
Questions? Comments? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
Jaime Purviance: Weber’s Big Book of Grilling
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