As a kid growing up in Coastal Southern California, I ate a lot of seafood, but my dad generally filleted whatever fish he caught. It wasn't until I was out on my own that I came to really love and appreciate the act of grilling and eating whole fish, cracking through that crispy skin and picking every last morsel of meat off the bones, making it feel both simple and celebratory at the same time. It's a meal made to be shared, family-style, passing platters and sharing stories.
Now, while cooking whole fish may sound intimidating, the fact is that it is actually very forgiving, making it an excellent dish for entertaining, even if you are a relatively unexperienced cook. Cooking fish (or any meat, for that matter) on the bone actually prevents the flesh from cooking too quickly because the bones do not heat up as rapidly as the flesh. This makes it possible for you to get the skin nice and crispy without overcooking the meat. Yes, you (and your guests) will need to watch for bones, but you'll be well-rewarded by that juicy flesh and crackling skin.
In the recipe that follows, I've seasoned both my whole fish as well as the accompanying salad with my California Seaside Spice Blend, which is an edible ode to my home and is inspired by the way Coastal Southern California smells after a winter rain or on a foggy morning, the air heavy with the scent of sage, fennel, rosemary, bay, citrus, and, of course, the ocean. You may not be from around here, but I hope this dish makes you feel like you've arrived home.
Let's get cooking, shall we?