If you are fortunate enough to have a fish grilling basket, by all means use it! If you don't have one, though, rest assured that a clean cooking grate, a well-oiled fish, a large spatula, and a steady hand are all you need to successfully grill an entire fish and bring it to the table in spectacular fashion.
Simple steps to grilling a fish:
- Clean, gut, and scale the fish, if necessary.
- Start with a clean, well-oiled cooking grate on the grill. The main concern with grilling fish is that it may stick to the grill - which can ruin the dramatic presentation. Starting with an oiled, clean cooking grate really improves your chances of ending up with an intact cooked fish at the end of all this!
- Prepare a medium hot to hot grill (you can hold your hand about an inch above the cooking grate for 2 or 3 seconds).
- Rub the whole fish with oil (canola, sunflower, olive, or grapeseed), sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Stuff the fish cavity with herbs and lemon slices, if you like. This adds flavor and looks great. As you're working with the fish, note how it feels, especially if you poke it a bit. Feel that softness and give? You're going to want to feel something much firmer and set once it's cooked.
- For larger fish, cut slashes into the sides (as you see in the picture). You're looking to cut the skin so that when it shrinks as it cooks it doesn't pull the whole fish into a curled shape.
- Place the prepared fish directly on the grill and cook it about 10 minutes per side. Really small fish, like sardines, will only need 5 to 8 minutes per side. For bigger fish that are more than 1 inch thick on each side, increase the cooking time to 15 minutes. However thick the fish, though, when you skewer the thickest part of it you don't want very much (if any) resistance and the skewer should emerge warm to the touch. With some experience, you'll even be able to tell when the fish is done just by poking at different parts of it and feeling the "cooked" rather than "raw" texture.
- Use a large spatula and tongs to turn the whole fish when you flip it and to transfer it to a baking sheet or serving platter when it's cooked through.
- Most fish is best served piping hot, right off the grill. Oilier fish like salmon and mackerel, however, can stand to sit for a bit, if necessary.