Fish Cheeks….

Whole mangrove snapper prepped for the grill.

The discussion came up last night about cooking whole fish and eating fish cheeks. I don’t eat the cheeks, and my husband gladly takes mine when I’m done with the rest of the fish. For those who are relucant to tackle a whole fish in cooking, it’s actually easier than it may seem. One of the most critical parts is to allow a professional to clean the fish for you. Getting all the scales off and making sure the inside cavity doesn’t have lingering “innards” gives you the right starting point.

What do you do next? Deciding whether to bake, grill, or fry comes next. Since most whole fish is fairly large, frying can be tricky. You’ll need at least a 12-inch skillet or a big deep fat fryer for it to work correctly. That’s why we usually go with grilling or baking.

How to prepare for cooking is again a personal preference and we tend to go with salt and pepper, lemon or lime slices, fresh herbs of basil and rosemary, and sometimes thinly sliced onions, athough you can use anything you like. If you  grill it, then everything needs to stay inside the fish, but if you choose to bake it, you can put other vegetables (or thin sliced potatoes) around the fish in a foil lined dish. The point is that the fish cooks fairly quickly, so whatever you pair it with needs to be either thinly sliced or parboiled so that the cooking times are matched. My husband has gotten the grilling technique down quite well, having learned that making cuts to score the skin of the fish, liberally spraying (or oiling) the grill, and having a very wide spatula to turn the fish are important points. You can find recipes on-line or in several cookbooks for whichever method you prefer.

Serving and eating a whole fish is the other part. I’ve found that a 1 to 2 pound fish usually fits on a regular size plate, but not much else will go on there. Normally, we’ll have a rice dish and put the fish on top, then just have a salad. Picking the fish from the bones isn’t that difficult if you go slowly and pay attention. As for eating the fish cheeks – well, you’ll just have to try them for yourself.

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