30 Sep Whole Fish – Pan Fried


Whole Fish – Pan Fried

30 September 2022

 PREP. TIME: 35- 45 MINs   -   COOK TIME: 5 mins   -   SERVES: 2

The best ways to cook whole fish are to grill them, roast them or pan fry them. If you are grilling over a fire, you have the extra complication of managing a fire, if you roast in a pan you can lose out on the crispness of the skin, if you pan fry - so long as you have a pan big enough - I use a cast iron griddle, and you have enough heat - you have the best control of all outcomes, I think.  

Recipe Template

Generally, fish purchased from a fishmonger will be sold to you clean and ready for the pan.

Allow a 250 - 300g size fish per person.

This recipe is for whole King George whiting of approximately 250 - 300 g in size; whole garfish or snapper or bream or flounder can be cooked the same way. If the fish is much bigger than 300g - you may need to finish cooking it in the oven once you have achieved the crispy, brown skin.

So the fish does not dry out during cooking you need a searingly hot pan - see instructions to do this in the recipe below.

It is also recommended that you score and then marinate the fish for about 30 minutes before you cook it and that you baste the fish with any extra marinade or olive oil while it is cooking.


ingredients for 2 people

2 x 250 - 300g whole fish - cleaned, with head and tail on,

1 lemon for marinade and garnish and 1 lemon for serving

1 sprig of fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, parsley, or sprigs of fennel leaf

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

A sprig of fresh parsley


Chopping board and kitchen knife

A large heavy based, oven proof fry pan or rectangle griddle, large enough to cook the whole fish on

Heavy duty oven proof towel or mitts

Tongs and a Spatula for turning and lifting the fish

Basting brush

A warmed serving plate - large enough to hold the whole fish.


Step 1 - Preparation

When you get the fish home, pat it dry inside and out using clean kitchen paper towel. Place it on a dish and store uncovered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Remove the fish from the fridge - pat it dry with paper towel and bring to room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes before cooking.

40 - 60 minutes before cooking preheat the oven to 220 C. 

Place the oven proof pan or griddle in the hot oven and heat for 20 - 30 minutes before you are ready to cook.

While the pan is heating and the fish is coming to room temperature - prepare the marinade and garnish if using

Zest the lemon and cut the lemon in half. 
Put the zest aside for the garnish if using.

RInse and trim the herbs

Finely chop the parsley for the garnish if using and toss with the lemon zest - set aside.

Rinse and finely chop the parsley for a garnish if using.

Quarter the second lemon.

Step 2 - Marinate the fish

Using a very sharp knife, lightly score the fish through the skin in 2 places on both sides. This allows the heat to easily penetrate the fish without bursting the skin.

Sprinkle the fish with sea salt - in the cavity and on the skin.

Squeeze half a lemon over and inside each fish.

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto your hands and rub inside and on the skin of both fish.

Allow the fish to marinate out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before cooking.

Step 3 - Cook

Turn the heat on top of the stove to high.

Turn the oven off and place the serving dish in the warm oven.

Carefully remove the hot pan or griddle from the oven, protecting your hands with a quality oven mitt or dry towel.

Place over high heat on top of the stove and lightly paint the interior of the pan or griddle with olive oil.

Once the oil is smoking - which will be almost immediately, gently place the fish in the pan or on the griddle, without overcrowding.

Baste the top of the fish with olive oil or left over marinade.

After a minute or two - check the underside of the fish - it should come away from the base easily and be becoming golden brown and crispy.

Open the belly cavity, the lower edge of the interior should becoming opaque.

Once the underside is well coloured  - baste the top of the fish with olive oil or left over marinade again and gently turn the fish over using the tongs and spatula.. You only get one go at this - you cannot turn the fish more than once and maintain its integrity.

Allow the fish to continue cooking on the other side, baste the top of the fish as before.  The skin  underneath should be brown and beginning to blister.

The fish is cooked when the flesh is white through to the bone - just. The eyes should be opaque and the dorsal fins if there will pull out easily. The belly cavity should be almost fully opaque.

Carefully transfer the cooked fish to the heated serving plate - using the tongs and the spatula.

If you are concerned that the fish is undercooked - pop it into the warmed oven allow to cook just for another minute or two.


Step 4 - To Serve

Garnish with chopped parsley, or  fronds of fennel and lemon zest.

Sprinkle with sea salt, grind over some black pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

Arrange the quarters of lemon around the fish.

Serve immediately


Recipe adapted by Elizabeth Peddey from Italian Food by Elizabeth David

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