This grilled whole fish with cucumber salad is a simple, healthy meal of tender, flaky grilled trout with crispy skin and smoky flavor, served alongside a creamy cucumber, red onion, and cherry tomato salad. It’s perfect for camping or dining al fresco.
Adapted from Genevieve Taylor | Foolproof BBQ | Quadrille, 2021
Slicing deep cuts into each side of the fish increases the surface area and allows the heat to penetrate, so they cook more quickly.–Genevieve Taylor
Grilled Whole Fish with Cucumber Salad FAQs
How do I prepare a fish for grilling?
You have two options:
1. Request that your fishmonger or butcher scale and gut your fresh fish. (This is our favorite option.)
2. Do it yourself. This is a messy undertaking – so make sure that you’re either outside or have properly prepared a spot in your kitchen for the process. Maybe warn your family.
To scale the fish, rinse the fish under fresh, cold running water. Next, lay your fish onto several sheets of newspaper or butcher paper (trust us, you’ll be glad you did when it’s time to clean up). Hold your fish by the tail and, starting at the tail, scrape the scales using the blunt edge of a knife, working towards the head.
Flip your fish over and repeat on the other side. When you’re finished, rinse the fish under running water again to remove any remaining scales. To be sure you’ve got them all, run your hands along the fish, but be careful of any sharp fins.
To gut the fish, insert the knife tip into the fish’s belly near the tail and cut in a straight line to the bottom of the head, keeping the blade inserted shallowly so you don’t puncture the intestines. Once that cut is complete, spread the body open wide enough that you are able to remove all of the innards. (Note: Some fish have a kidney near their backbone. It’s easily removed by scraping with a spoon or your thumbnail.)
Rinse the cavity out with a good stream of water and wash the skin. Some species of fish have dark tissue that lines their abdominal cavity. That tissue often produces a strong, oily flavor, but it’s easily scraped out.
If you don’t care for your food to look at you, feel free to remove the head, but grilled fish are often cooked head-on. Give your whole fish a good rinse again, and set it aside (on ice, if you can) while you immediately clean up the mess. Collect the guts, heads (if lopped off), and scales, and discard them. Sanitize the preparation area and wash your hands well.
Can I make this recipe with fish fillets or steaks instead?
Yes, absolutely. Adjust your cooking time as needed. We recommend using a fish grate or grilling basket, prepared as directed in step 5.
How do you carve a whole fish for serving?
To serve a whole fish, lay it out flat on a plate and slice through the fish where the head meets the body, until the knife meets the backbone. Repeat at the tail end. Slice through the fillet in the centre, separating the top fillet into two mini fillets, one either side of the backbone.
Then slide the knife underneath to ease the flesh of one mini fillet away from the bone, trying to keep it in one piece, if possible. Repeat with the other mini fillet. Lift the tail and pull up toward the head, easing the backbone away from the bottom fillet.
Grilled Whole Fish with Cucumber Salad
- Grilling basket (optional)
For the cucumber salad
- 2 tablespoons yogurt
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- Zest of 1 lemon (1 to 2 teaspoons) preferably organic
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cucumber diced into 1/2-inch (1cm) cubes
- 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
- 3 1/2 ounces cherry tomatoes halved
For the trout
- Four (9 to 10 1/2-ounce) fresh whole fish such as trout, snapper, or sea bream
- Small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley stems
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Nonstick cooking spray or mild vegetable oil for the grill or grill basket
- 2 lemons halved
Make the cucumber salad
- Spoon the yogurt and mayonnaise into a mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, dill and lemon zest and season well with salt and pepper. Taste, adding more vinegar to sharpen if you like.
- Add the cucumber, onion and tomatoes and mix gently. Cover and chill until needed, up to 2 hours ahead.
Make the trout
- Fire up the barbecue for direct grilling.
- Prepare the trout by slicing deep diagonal cuts through the skin on both sides. Stuff the parsley stems into the body cavity of each fish and drizzle a little oil over each one. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.
- If you are using a grilling basket, make sure your grill bars are hot and clean them first using a wire brush to minimize sticking. Coat the grill basket with cooking spray or oil, then line up the fish in the grilling basket.If you are cooking the fish directly on the grill, oil the preheated grill well.
- Grill the trout, turning carefully, until cooked through and the skin is crisp and the internal temperature is 140°F (60°C), about 6 minutes per side. Rest the lemon halves on the grill at the same time, cut-side down, until the surface lightly burns and caramelizes, about 5 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: Depending on the size of your fish, your grilling time may need to be adjusted.
- Serve the fish with the cucumber salad alongside and the grilled lemons to squeeze over.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This grilled whole fish with cucumber salad is a simple but amazingly flavorful meal. The chilled cucumber salad with its complex dill flavor profile blends perfectly with the delicate flavor of grilled trout.
I used butterflied rainbow trout instead of whole trout. The cook time is slightly less. I would suggest grilling 5 minutes per side if using butterflied trout. Using the butterflied trout eliminated the somewhat tiresome chore of boning and fileting the fish after grilling.
The grilled lemons really added another dimension to the final dish. The juice was warm and sweet. It brought out the flavor of the trout and blended well with the creamy cucumber salad.
I served the trout with potatoes roasted in duck fat and a lovely KK Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs. This is a perfect summertime meal.
This grilled whole fish with cucumber salad is a pretty simple and straightforward grilling recipe. I strongly recommend using a grill basket. We have a very cute one that’s shaped like a whole fish, so it works perfectly if you’re grilling a single fish large enough to serve two, as we did tonight.
The cucumber salad was an interesting accompaniment but would not be our first choice as we prefer to simply savor the flavors of the grilled fish, lemon, and parsley, especially with the juices from the caramelized grilled lemons. Also drizzling the cooked fish with extra virgin olive oil is a great way to finish the dish. That said, the salad was really delicious and could be used many different ways.
Be sure to ask your fishmonger to gut and scale the whole fish(es) to avoid a mess in your kitchen, unless you are someone who enjoys preparing a whole fish from scratch. If you are at the opposite end of the spectrum, this recipe would also work with some beautiful fish filets, such as any of the sturdier varieties like halibut, tilapia, salmon, or cod.
Notes: We halved the recipe since we were only serving the two of us and were able to find a fish large enough for two portions, which yielded a decent-sized filet from each side.
Originally published August 12, 2022
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Grilled whole fish is an often occurrence at our table. Our usual is seabream that I stuff with parsley and lemon slices. The lemon usually slides out during grilling and grills as well.
I wanted to try this recipe because I had never cooked whole trout and because I was intrigued by the use of just the parsley stems in the fish as I always have lots of parsley stems leftover from other recipes.
As I couldn’t find whole trout or any fish other than bream that was the appropriate size for this recipe, I used two Vermilion Snapper that weighed 650 grams, and 710 grams adding up approximately to the weight requested.
The dill amount in the cucumber salad recipe seemed outrageous until I tasted the salad. The yogurt and the vinegar mellowed out the dill. I liked the cubed cucumber texture and creamy dressing with bits of onion and background lemon taste. I loved the grilled lemon flavour on both the fish and the salad.
What I didn’t enjoy were the three tablespoons of extra liquid in the salad after resting two hours in the fridge. For this issue, I’m suggesting either using Greek yogurt, pre-salting, and rinsing/draining the cucumber before making the salad, or making as is then straining the extra dressing before serving.
In the end, this recipe was very well enjoyed. It wasn’t a “wow” as my family is used to whole grilled fish and as it turned out, seabream is still our favourite for grilling. What I will adopt, is the use of just the parsley stems. These imparted the same fresh aromas and were much easier to remove from the fish, instead of picking out stuck parsley leaves.
With the tweaks mentioned above, this recipe goes from just making it to a TC to a solid 10. The fact that it encourages the cooking of a whole fish gets it bonus points as well!