File this one under critical survival skills. Like when you’re at an old-school fish shack that will prepare the whole grilled fish for you but won’t offer to filet it. In other words, it’s the bone that stands between you and the best fish of your life. Well, we have the tutorial on how to properly filet a fish that will become your lifetime party trick.
Welcome to At Home with Galavante, our video series that brings the world home to you through food and inspired design. Today, we share a skill we learned in the South of France at La Réserve à La Plage. Chef Nicolas Cantrel helms the kitchen at La Reserve, which is why the food is so exceptional. We first met him in NYC, when he was the Chef of Bobo, and eventually Bagatelle. This is one of my favorite beach clubs in St. Tropez because of the food. The specialty at the La Reserve beach club is the whole grilled fish; I haven’t had branzino this fresh. Our waiter brought the fish out to us to present, and he was kind enough to teach me how to filet a fish. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
How to Roast a Whole Fish
You get the most moist and perfectly cooked fish when you simply roast it whole. I would say there’s no better preparation for branzino which is a favorite summer fish. To roast a whole fish, I like to ask my fishmonger to clean out the guts. Or you can buy the whole fish already cleaned and halved. Either way, you want to stuff it with lemon, herbs, and salt before you roast. This gives you extra flavor. I also like to generously rub sea salt on the outside of the skin and drizzle a little olive oil.
For a small fish of less than 1.5 lbs, I roast it at 375 for about 15-17 minutes. If you have a larger fish up to 3 lbs, you’ll need to cook it more in the 25-minute range. Though sometimes, my oven at home doesn’t get hot enough, so it also depends on your oven. Even for the small fish, I’ll need to keep it in at around 25 minutes if my oven acts up. Your fish is cooked when the meat is opaque and firm.
Filleting the Fish
How to filet a fish isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks. The key is detaching the tail first. Then you need to cut the outside spine at the top and bottom, which keeps the fish intact. Once you do this, it’s smooth sailing from here. I don’t cut out the head separately, because if you do this right, you’ll lift the head out with the bones of the fish. Check out the video on how to filet a fish, and you’ll want to only cook whole fish at home.
Serving the Fish
Once you’ve filleted the fish, I like to keep things simple. I drizzle olive oil and a little more Maldon sea salt on top. Presentation is everything, so I also add extra lemon wedges and fresh herbs like basil from my garden. It’s also good to add some capers and beautiful roasted tomatoes to your platter. The red and the green add such a beautiful presentation element. It really shows off the work you have done and makes how to filet a fish well worth the effort.