I am going to teach you my strategy for cooking an entire fish. Why would you cook an entire fish like this, as opposed to simply filleting and cooking it, or just thawing a frozen hunk of mystery fish and throwing it on the skillet?
- It tastes MUCH better! In fact, I have met many fishes on my travels and the ones that have been grilled/baked/fried as whole fish are significantly tastier.
>Why does it taste better? The skeleton of the fish releases extra flavor, while the skin traps moisture. The taste of a whole fish is unparalleled.
- It is much cheaper! The two freshly caught tilapia used in my recipe cost about $11.00 (USD) or about one dollar per pound. Try finding eleven pounds of any kind of meat, let alone fish, for that price.
- It is the EASIEST way to cook a fish! Don't believe me? Keep reading.
Step 1: Ingredients:
I used the following:
-Two fresh, gutted and cleaned tilapia (you may use any fish you like, just adjust the oven temperature or time in the oven in relation to the weight of the fish to avoid over or under cooking) Also, you don't have to cook two fish. One is usually plenty. :]
- Garlic salt, pepper, basil leaves
- One head of garlic (use more or less or none as desired)
- Three sweet Vidalia onions (use more or less or none as desired)
- Vinegar (optional)
- Cooking oil of any type (I used canola)
- Knives and a cutting board
- An Oven!
Step 2: Preheat the Oven, Chop Onions and Garlic
Next, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius) before you start chopping the onions and garlic. Make sure you completely peel garlic before you start chopping.
Divide the garlic into three groups. This will insure that the same amount of garlic ends up on the outside of the fish and inside. Nothing is worse than running out of garlic before coating each side of the fish.
Every time I chop garlic, I am reminded of Pauli slicing it with a razor so it liquefies in the pasta sauce. :]
If you dislike onions or garlic, or both, I have some interesting substitutions in step four that will give the fish a completely different flavor.
Step 3: Coat the Fish With Spices
Start by coating the fish with the cooking oil of your choice. I just used plain canola oil, but there are a ton of options. Coat both sides of each fish with a thin layer and then follow it up with a sprinkle of each of your spices. Don't forget to add some of the garlic that you have set aside.
Be careful not to over season the fish!
I'm going to say it one more time.
Be careful not to over season the fish!
The last thing that you want to do is crowd the natural flavor of the fish! Remember, less is more and you can always add salt and pepper after you try it.
Step 4: Stuff the Fish!
Honestly this step and the last step are interchangeable.
Here's what I did:
- Mix the spices in a small bowl and rub a pinch of the mixture onto the belly cavity walls of each fish. Just a pinch will do!
- Jam some onions into the belly. I love onions, so I really packed it. A few (or none) will do just fine.
- Add the last of your garlic reserves into the belly.
This mixture will release an unbelievable flavor while the fish is cooked.
One more thing, go ahead and throw some onions on top and add a dash of vinegar. I recommend another dose of vinegar right before serving.
Now, if you aren't a fan of these ingredients, do not fret! You could substitute the onions with any type of fresh fruit, or a mixture. I would love to try it with pineapple, tangerines, and or lemon.
Step 5: Bake the Fish!
Toss the pan into the oven and come back in 35 minutes. It is not necessary to flip the fish at any point; it is inconvenient, and trust me they turn out the same.
You can also fry the fish on a skillet with medium heat (that's when you should flip the fish a few times), or grill the fish (flip once). Just make sure that the skin is VERY well oiled if you employ either of these techniques to avoid tearing the skin.
It helps to oil up the spatula before flipping/serving. If you're into grilling, You can also wrap the fish in tinfoil to prevent spillage and fish breakage. You will however, miss out on the beautiful grill lines.
You will know when the fish is done when the eyes turn white.
Step 6: Remove From Oven and Serve!
After 35 minutes, take out your fish and wedge an oil coated spatula underneath. Lift the fish a few inches and move the plate underneath. Place the fish and garnish accordingly.
Now, if you would rather not eat the fish in its current "whole" form, you can fillet the fish. I must say though, it is much more fun and satisfying to dig into the whole fish. Just be mindful of the ribs. Usually they will stay attached to the spine, but occasionally they can fall into the meat.
Try it, and let me know how it goes along with any variations in the recipe!