Whole Roast Fish with Lemon and Fennel

chili pepper rockfish stuffed with lemon and fennel

This is a whole chilipepper rock fish we ordered from Water 2 Table. Took it out of the cooler bag, slashed a few cuts in each side and threw it in a 450ºF oven for 20 minutes. Winner, winner, whole fish dinner!

Is it that easy? Yes. A few more steps required (see below), but cooking a whole fish is pretty much foolproof assuming you pay attention to the time and temperature. And you don’t need expert table-side filleting techniques or sharp knives. We just take a fork and knife and kind of pull of chunks of meat as we go. By the time dinner is done all that you’re left with is the head, bones, and tail.

Speaking of bones, that’s the big advantage of cooking a whole fish versus filets or steaks. You’ve heard of nose-to-tail cooking? This is the seafood version. Bones release flavorful juices as they cook, keeping the flesh moist, and you get the added bonus of having the main ingredient for fish fumé, the French version fish stock. Print

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chilipepper rock fish

Whole Roast Fish with Lemon and Fennel

This recipe is works well with rockfish, cod and branzino, which are all white-fleshed fish with a thick main backbone (which releases flavorful juices as it cooks) and very few bones in the flesh. We like to finish this with chimichurri (or a salsa verde) spooned on top, but it’s just as delicious without.

  • Total Time: 25 minutes



For the fish

1 whole rockfish or branzino, 2 lbs, gutted and scaled

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 lemon thinly sliced, 4 slices cut in half

1 bunch fennel fronds

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

For the chimichurri

3/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped

3/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (or substitute 1 tablespoon dried)

1/2 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar


FISH: Preheat the oven to 450°.

Put the fish on a baking sheet (we put ours atop a baking rack). Make 3-4 crosswise slashes down to the bone on each side of the fish. Season both sides generously with kosher salt, rubbing salt into each of the slashes.  Stuff each slash with 1/2 of a lemon slice and a couple sprigs of fennel. Stuff the cavity of the fish with remaining fennel and lemon slices.

Rub both sides of the fish with olive oil and shower with the sea salt and black pepper.

Roast for 20 minutes or until the flesh is 145ºF.

CHIMICHURRI: (adapted from the Gjelina cookbook)

Combine everything but the vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for flavors to meld, about 15 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and then spoon over the fish.


Sources for ordering whole fish in the SF Bay Area:

Water 2 Table

Two X Sea

The Sea Forager

  • Author: Bruce Cole
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: seafood
  • Method: roast
  • Cuisine: American


  • Serving Size: 4

Keywords: seafood, whole fish, rockfish, rock cod, branzino