You don’t see enough grilled whole fish. Chicken, steak, burgers, chops, kebabs and fish fillets are fine for everyday. More than fine, don’t get me wrong! But when you want something special, something to impress, something out of the ordinary, grill a whole fish.

After the clam success we wanted to keep the ball rolling with another challenging seafood dish. Maybe not more challenging per se; less attempted by the home cook. Also, we were eager to revisit a Pensacola landmark, Joe Patti’s, and snatch up anything and everything that looked good.

Tuna, halibut, pristine sides of salmon and dirt cheap oysters tempted us, though we ultimately came home with amberjack, triggerfish and a beautiful, whole bluefish. An entire fish. Scales, guts and all.

It got messy. Lucky there’s a Marine in the house, trained to step up at dicey occasions.

Aside from photographic documentation, I made myself available to open doors, provide new pans, snip the gills, point out missed pieces of liver and sanitize. Lots of sanitizing.

Tasty, though we’d recommend a different fish — bluefish was a bit strong. I’d also like to keep the flavors a bit more fresh, too. Lose the fish sauce, use a light floral honey, and stick to lemon instead of three types of citrus. Swap thyme or rosemary in for the cilantro, stuffing a couple sprigs of that and some lemon slices in the middle of the fish for extra flavor.

Grilled Whole Bluefish [serves 2-4]

Printable recipe

For the Glaze:

1 T crushed red chilli flakes

1 1/2 T chopped garlic

1 1/2 T dark honey

1/2 c orange juice

1/4 c lemon juice

2 1/2 T fresh lime juice

3/4  t fish sauce

1 T chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish

+ + +

For the Fish:

Nonstick vegetable oil spray [PAM grill spray is great]

1 – 1 1/2 to 2 lb whole fish [striped bass, snapper or sea bream are good], cleaned, scaled, gutted; 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb after prep

To make the Glaze: In a medium prep bowl, stir together chilli flakes, garlic, honey, the citrus juices and fish sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in cilantro and set aside.

To make the Fish: Prepare grill to medium heat — ready when the coals have a light-medium ash covering, but still a visible glow. [Try the hand-check method if you’re daring.] Wipe fish dry inside and out with paper towels. Score each side of fish 3 times, cutting to bone. Season fish inside and out with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Spray grill grates well with cooking spray. Place fish on rack and close the grill; cook 6 minutes. Gently and ever-so-gingerly, turn fish over with a very large spatula [this is not the time for tongs!]. Brush 2 T glaze on top and cover the grill. Cook fish until just opaque in center, about 7 minutes.

Remove fish from the grill to a serving platter [be careful – it wants to flake apart]. Brush 2 T more glaze over and top with cilantro. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Bon Appetit and Mastering the Grill