Gimme Some Oven

How To Cook A Whole Fish

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A step-by-step tutorial for how to roast a whole fish in the oven. Don’t be intimidated — it’s actually super easy, and crazy delicious.

How To Cook A Whole Fish In The Oven

Friends, we’re goin’ all in today.

We’re talking about how to cook a whole fish!

I’ve been getting tons of requests from you guys for a step-by-step tutorial on this. Because since moving to Spain, many of you know that I’ve been on a quest to conquer my culinary bucket-list item of learning how to cook (and eat!) whole fish. As a fish lover, it’s something that I have always wanted to learn, but was admittedly too intimidated to try for far too long. But a few months ago, after passing by the fresh fish stands at our neighborhood market for the hundredth time, I finally geared up my courage and walked up to one with a friendly fish lady and asked her to help a girl out. And now, months and months and dozens and dozens of fish later, “fish night” has officially become a tradition in our little casita here. And we are hooked.  (<– Hehe, fish joke!)

Because here’s the thing — it’s actually ridiculously easy to roast a whole fish in the oven!

Other bonuses? It’s incredibly flavorful, thanks to just a few basic seasonings. You can also guarantee the freshness of the fish so much more accurately when purchasing it whole, versus taking a chance with a fresh or frozen filet. And perhaps most importantly, you can guarantee that your fish will be perfectly cooked with this method — amazingly juicy and flaky and tender on the inside, and deliciously crispy and seasoned on the outside. (Truly, this method has proved far more foolproof, in my experience, than cooking plain filets.)  It’s a win-win all around. And while it feels so fun and new and novel to us as expats here, it’s actually how most people cook their fish anyway here in Spain, ha.

So if you’ve ever wanted to try cooking your own whole fish, get to know the nice fish lady (or guy) at your favorite fresh fish counter, and bring home a pescado or two to try. Then I’ll walk you step by step through the whole process. Don’t be scared — I seriously think you are going to love it.

How To Roast Whole Fish In The Oven

How To Buy Fresh Fish:

Alright, first things first. Let’s talk about how to buy fresh fish — what to expect at the fish counter, what to look for, and what to say. (Because let’s be honest — this was totally the step that intimidated me and kept me from trying this for so many years!)  Here’s the drill:

  1. Find the kind(s) of fish you have in mind.  If you’re a beginner with cooking whole fish, I would recommend a white-fleshed fish, such as mahi mahi, sea bass, branzino or red snapper.
  2. Look closely for signs of freshness.  Specifically, look for:
    • eyes that are clear (not cloudy) and plump (not deflated)
    • flesh that is firm and shiny (it should bounce back a bit when touched)
    • coloring that is fairly even (avoid fish that has browned around the edges)
    • gills that are bright pink/red and wet (not slimy or dry)
  3. Give the fish a sniff.  It’ll inevitably smell “fishy”, but ideally it should still smell a bit fresh and more like the water from which it came, and not overly stinky.
  4. Then make friends with the fish gal/guy!  Seriously, don’t be shy. This person is here to help you, and also knows what’s freshest that day. So explain what you are looking for, and ask for help in selecting the perfect fish for you.
  5. Ask to have your fish prepared for roasting.  Because good news — this is totally not something you need to do yourself! Ask your new fish friend to please scale, gut, and rinse the fish. And also be sure to note that you are planning to cook your whole fish in the oven, and they will prepare it accordingly. (Note: different markets may or may not trim off the fins and make slits in the side of the fish for you. If they don’t, you can either ask them to, or just do these steps at home. It’s easy.)
  6. Bring it on home! Then, your fish should be all ready to wrap up and bring home! Good job!

How To Make Baked Fish In The Oven

The Easiest Roasted Fish Ingredients:

There are infinite ways that you could prepare and season roasted whole fish. But my favorite way is super simple. You’ll just need:

  • Your Fish: Ideally ready to go on the same day that you purchased it, for maximum freshness. As mentioned above, I would recommend beginning with a white-fleshed fish, such as mahi mahi, sea bass, branzino or red snapper.
  • Olive Oil: Just regular refined olive oil, not extra virgin. OR any other high-heat oil, since we’re going to be cooking these at 450°F.
  • Garlic: Minced fresh garlic for the inside of the fish, plus garlic powder for the the skin on the outside.
  • Lemon: I’d recommend about one whole lemon per fish — half for slicing and stuffing on the inside, half for squeezing on the outside once the fish has been cooked.
  • Fresh Herbs: Whatever you love! I typically use a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme for stuffing the inside of the fish.
  • Salt and Pepper: And lots of it. ;)

How To Roast Fish

How To Prepare Your Fish:

Thanks to your new friend at the fresh fish market counter, who will take care of cleaning and scaling the fish for you, the actual prep time for your roasted fish should be super quick and easy. (Like, just 5 minutes or so!)  Simply:

  1. Rinse and pat the fish dry. I recommend giving the fish one more good rinse when you get it home. Then lightly pat it dry with a paper towel, and transfer it to a foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Score the fish. If the fish counter did not already do this for you, use a knife to cut slits about an inch apart across the top of the fish. They do not need to be super-deep — just enough to cut through the skin.
  3. Brush the fish thoroughly with oil, inside and out. Using an oil with a high smoke point, generously brush the outside of the fish with oil on both sides, being sure to also get the oil inside the slits you just cut. Then briefly brush some oil on the inner cavity of the fish.
  4. Stuff the cavity with your aromatics. In this recipe, I recommend fresh herbs, lemon slices and garlic. But please experiment with whatever seasonings you love! Also, one note on the garlic — be sure to stuff it all the way into the cavity of the fish, or it may burn if it is left exposed.
  5. Season the heck outta the fish. I recommend adding lots of sea salt, freshly-cracked black pepper, and garlic powder to the outside of the fish. Plus a bit on the inside cavity as well.

Then that’s it! Your fresh fish is officially ready to go.

The Best Oven Baked Fish Recipe

How To Roast Fish In The Oven:

So for everyone who has asked just exactly how to cook fish in the oven, good news — this part is also incredibly easy.

  1. Roast on high heat: Cook your fish for 18-20 minutes at 450°F, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F and flakes easily with a fork. (Cooking time will vary according to the type/size of your fish.)  Then remove from the oven.
  2. Add lemon juice: Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the lemon evenly on top of your baked whole fish.
  3. Serve immediately: Then serve it immediately.

How To Eat A Whole Fish:

Honestly, most of the time we just dig in with a fork and work our way around the bones. (As in, we use a fork to eat the upper layer of the fish, staying on the lookout especially for bones along the top of the fish. Then gently lifting out the backbone once it is exposed, and then eating the bottom layer of the fish.)  But if you would like a proper tutorial on how to carve a whole cooked fish, here is a great one from Serious Eats.

Here’s the thing — there’s really no wrong way to do this. It’s meant to be a bit messy and full of little surprises (read: occasional bones here and there). So just take your time and have fun with it!

How To Make Whole Fish In The Oven -- a step by step tutorial

What To Serve With Whole Fish:

Some of my favorite recipes to serve with this baked whole fish include:

Insta Video:

If you’d like to watch a video version of this recipe, I made it for my little “How-To Tuesdays” series on Instagram this week and saved it to my highlights here. So feel free to check it out if you’d like!

Good Luck!

And that’s it, friends! If cooking a whole fish has also been on your bucket list, I hope that this has demystified the process a bit and that you’ll give it a try. (And report back on how it goes!)  Clearly, I’m a big fan. So I hope that you enjoy it too, and best wishes!

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How To Cook A Whole Fish

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 1 serving 1x


A step-by-step tutorial for how to roast a whole fish in the oven.  Feel free to top with any of your favorite sauces or toppings!


  • 1 large whole fish (such as mahi mahi, sea bass, or branzino), scaled and gutted
  • 12 tablespoons olive oil*
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • handful of fresh herbs (such as rosemary and thyme)
  • sea salt, freshly-cracked black pepper and garlic powder


  1. Heat oven to 450°F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, or grease with cooking spray.
  2. Give your fish one final good rinse once you’re ready to cook, then lightly pat it dry with paper towels.  Use a sharp knife to lightly score the top of the fish in diagonal lines about 1-inch apart.
  3. Brush the fish generously on both sides with the oil.  Then briefly brush the inner cavity with oil as well.
  4. Slice half of the lemon into slices, and stuff those as well as the garlic and herbs into the cavity of the fish (being sure that the garlic is completely tucked in and not exposed).
  5. Season the outside of the fish generously with a few good pinches of sea salt, black pepper and garlic powder.
  6. Roast for 18-20 minutes, or until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145°F and flakes easily with a fork.  (Cooking time will vary depending on the size/variety of your fish.)
  7. Remove from the oven, and squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half evenly over the top of the fish.
  8. Serve warm, and enjoy!


  • Be sure to use regular refined olive oil (not extra virgin) or any other high-heat oil that you prefer.

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87 comments on “How To Cook A Whole Fish”

  1. love this!!!

  2. That’s funny we went camping this week and that was are staple fried cod it was so easy and so so good we cooked it until it was golden brown so good you don’t need a cook book to do it simple dish


  3. I’ve always been intimidated by cooking a whole fish too! Such a good point about the whole fish being more fresh though :)

  4. wow your fish looks sooo good, I love Sea Food, but I’ve always intimidated to cook a whole one! Your instruction seem easy, I might just give it a try. thank you-let you know if I cook it-wow!

  5. I am looking forward to making this! It looks exactly like the type of fish we eat for dinner at the Chinese-American buffet at which I work (after most of our customers have left we share down-home authentic Chinese cuisine) but learning how to make it is problematic because of the language barrier with our chef. ? Thank you!

  6. Hey Ali,
    I pinged this post on my blog. Hope you don’t mind I love your advice so much I wanted to share it! And also not loose it. Thanks for sharing amazing food and great advice!

  7. Pretty spot on lady! I dealt with the same things when I cooked my first whole fish, and bronzini and sea bass are the way to go… I’m about to to cook up a nice meaty Black Sea bass tonight for myself. Good info and rock on!

  8. Very delicious and easy to make. This became my go to weekly recipe.

  9. First, I just want to say THANK YOU FOR THE TUTORIAL! Because of you I now feel like i really know how to handle cooking my first whole fish. Lol, i can now be officially excited instead of concerned.

    If it looks nice enough i will surely post a photo. I had already planned to stuff with herbs although im using dill, parsley and tarragon plus lemons and garlic. The fish is about 6 lbs so I’m also adding vegetables to roast along with hopefully to help with moisture. I think i can pull it off!

    Again, thank you!! You really made a difference to me.


  10. What type of fish is pictured in your recipe? Hoping to try this for dinner today.

  11. Just want to thank you so much for this tutorial. Trying whole roasted drum for the first time and I now feel more excited than nervous. Appreciate you very much for sharing.

  12. Thank you for such a simple and delicious way to prepare and bake fish. It was perfect!

  13. So simple yet soo god. My husband loved it! Thank you!

  14. You are a genius! Best fish I ever ate!!!

  15. I have been preparing whole fish A LOT lately. I’m so grateful for this recipe and tutorial though. I love the fish choices you gave, but I’d suggest a less expensive fish like porgy, perch, or maybe tilapia (if you eat that) to try this out.

  16. Have you ever freshened it with milk? My brother swears by it.

  17. Made this last night and followed the recipe exactly. The fish weighed 1.8 lbs so I cooked for 15 minutes. It came out perfectly and it was delicious.

  18. Hi Ali! Well, this will be my first attempt at cooking a whole fish. Here on Maui the fishermen sell their fresh catch of the day at the side of the road. You just can’t get them much fresher than that! I plan to corral one of the guys to gut the fish. Yuk! We have a nice herb garden outside our condo so easy to get all kinds of herbs to stuff inisde the fish. We also have fresh veggies all year around, so planning on a garden salad to go with the Mahi .. and topped with my favorite home-made poppy seed dressing. Yuuum! Thank you so much for the “blow by blow” instructions” on preparing and cooking the fish. I’m looking forward to surprising friends with this gourmet fishy dinner next weekend. Will let you know how it turned out!!
    Aloha ~~~ Nancy On Maui

  19. OMG! What a great tutorial! My fish turned out perfect. Thank you also for sharing how to debone it. My very first time. Yea. You made it so easy for me. ??

  20. First time cooking a whole fish, but we were inspired by a selection of beautiful red snapper. We originally wanted to cook it in salt. So glad we did it like this instead! So easy and beyond my expectations. We used lots of salt and pepper, sliced lemons, oregano and thyme stuffed in the cavity. My teenage daughter kept screaming about the eye, but she ate the fish with us. A testament to how delicious it was! Hi

  21. It going to be good

  22. Caught a couple of bream this morning so going to try this tonight. Will remove the head because I don’t like my meal looking at me. Will let you know how I get on. Thanks for the recipe.

  23. “Absolutely delicious” that’s what my husband said about dinner. I used whole snapper with fresh rosemary, lemon, Himalayan pink salt and black pepper and olive oil. I will make this again. Thank you!

  24. I’ve been an avid cook for a long time, but had yet to attack the elusive whole-roasted-fish. My husband and I spent a week in Portugal recently and got so spoiled by the seafood there, especially the delectable simplicity of a fresh roasted whole fish. So we were inspired during our usual trip to the farmers market to spring for a whole sea bass instead of our usual order of neat and tidy fillets.

    I prepared the fish just as you recommended and it turned out PERFECT. I went heavy on the salt, pepper and garlic powder, stuffed the cavity with fresh garlic, lemon and thyme, and roasted it for 20 minutes. Delish! And it really was SO simple and quick. Another bonus: it was far less smelly than preparing fillets in a skillet. I paired it with a side of coconut rice. No big deal for a Monday night!

  25. My husband caught a giant red snapper, so I used this recipe and it was perfection! I’m making this again, tonight, unless he doesn’t catch one!

  26. This was incredible and not as nearly difficult as I imagined. Have to say, I am kind of proud of myself! Yay me.

  27. I have made whole roasted fish using this recipe three times and it just gets easier and easier. This recipe is super simple and the results are delicious. I get one very large red snapper, about 6 pounds trimmed, from the local fish monger. Thank you for this recipe!

  28. This was SUPER easy to make. I follow the recipe exactly for one of the branzini fish I made (I used crushed garlic, cilantro, and lemon to stuff the other one). It was absolutely delicious, timing was just perfect, and I did it on a busy weekday. It’s going to be a weekly meal for me. I held off on baking an entire fish for so long. Silly me. THANK YOU!

  29. hi, do you cover the fish with foil or just bake it openly in the oven? looking forward to try it now but afraid if i doing it wrongly….thanks in advance!

  30. Delicious!

  31. I used sea bass and it was delicious. My family enjoyed it! I will definitely make it again! Next time I’ll try it with snapper which is one of my favorite fish.

  32. This is a perfect, foolproof recipe. My husband and I have serious differences when it comes to fish. He likes really fatty fish like salmon and I prefer lighter whitefish. This closed the gap. I made it with two whole sea bass because that’s right up my alley thinking I would need a backup plan for him but he ate an entire fish like it was candy. The flesh is so tender and delicate. Just for fun, I tried it with pesto, sweet Thai chili sauce and lemon juice individually. All of the additions were fantastic. This is on our regular menu now.

  33. Easy I’m doing this for the 31 of December

  34. Delicious and so easy. I’ll make this my go to recipe for whole fish in the future.

  35. The bestest!!!!!! Thank you

  36. Fantastic! Well laid out recipe and article. I’m trying this out tonight. Thank you :)

  37. This is the BEST recipe!!! I used Sea Bass fishes. It was flavorful & flaky on the inside! Thanks for sharing!

  38. It’s just me…how big a fish? And….did you score the fish for “looks” or does that help with the cooking? Thanks! I’m an old chef, but still like to try new stuff!

  39. Easy, fabulous, delicious!
    Ali, thank you for sharing the story of your search in Spain to figure out how to cook a whole fish in the oven. I enjoyed the international details & prep tips. I also read all of your instructions on how to season the fish and followed them to a T, even down to the garlic powder, which I rarely use. But in this case, it was perfect. I live in the southeastern US and bought fresh red snapper. Cooked it in a big old skillet. It was so good, I’ll be serving it to company.
    Thanks again for a wonderful recipe. I’m sharing it with family!

  40. This was a tasty way to cook fish, thank you for sharing I made whole Talapia. Will be making this again. ?

  41. My husband and I go fishing every weekend. We catch mostly croaker. He grew up pan frying them, but I can’t eat fried food every weekend. We tried this recipe and they were so good. My hates change husband licked the plate. Great recipe, thanks.

  42. Love this recipe. Since it was the first time I made an entire fish, I made no deviations. It’s easy and the full instructions were great from selection to scoring and seasoning. But, I didn’t think it would be so easy or so delicious or so fast! Served it with a light starter salad, then mussels in wine sauce and golden beets with our entree. A real keeper, for sure! Thank you!

  43. I am definitely going with this oven recipe tonight

  44. Do you eat the skin?? I’ve never eaten the skin.

  45. Excellent, delicious fish! Easy to prepare and ready in 20 minutes depending on the size of the fish.

  46. Good recipe, been looking for a long time for one thanks.

  47. Thanks for recipe. ıt was delicious.

  48. Great and easy recipe!

  49. Worked and was DELICIOUS
    Roasted 2 Snappers
    Thank you

  50. thank you for the recipes, yo fish look so nice and appetizing.

    would kindly ask if i can use your pictures in my graphic designs. my name is Tawanda and i am from, Zimbabwe, Africa

    thank you