This past weekend, I was lucky enough to travel to Amelia Island for my “beachlorette” weekend. When I’m at the beach, I try to eat as much fresh, local and sustainably caught seafood as possible. As with most meats, fish is more flavorful, more tender and retains more moisture when cooked on the bone. One of my favorite ways to enhance these benefits is to grill or smoke fish whole. This super simple preparation looks impressive on the table and really tastes amazing. It also requires surprisingly little effort…unless you catch the fish yourself. If you buy the fish from a market, you can ask them to clean and gut the fish, leaving the head, tail and skin on, and to score it. If you catch the fish yourself, you’re on your own for those steps. I used Pompano, which is a wonderful fish for smoking. It is an oily fish, but that is actually makes it perfect for smoking. It is unlikely to dry out, and the flavor of the smoke balances the flavor of the fish beautifully. If you don’t have access to Pompano, another one of my favorites to prepare this way is Branzino. For this preparation, I used a charcoal grill and wood chips. Follow the instructions and use whichever preparation is recommended for the equipment you have.
Smoked Whole Pompano
- 3 cups hickory chips
- 3 medium Pompano, cleaned, gutted and scored (approximately 6 lbs)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 large lemon, sliced
- 1 large onion, sliced into rounds
Cover wood chips in water and soak for at least 30 minutes. Start the grill. Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry inside and out. Place fish on grill-safe pan. Rub salt, pepper and olive oil over outside and inside of each fish. Slide at least one slice each of lemon and onion into the inside of the fish. Add more if it will fit. Once charcoal is ashed over and hot, drain wood chips. Layer 2 cups of drained wood chips on top of the hot coals. Replace grill rack and place grill-pan on rack. If you put it off direct heat, increase cooking time by approximately 5 minutes. Cover the grill and seal to contain smoke. Allow to smoke for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pan and rack. Add remaining wood chips on top of coals. Flip fish to cook on other side. Cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, or until fish is white and flaky. Top with additional lemon slices and serve.