A real crowd pleaser, this chargrilled whole fish is just beautiful in its simplicity. Stuffed with soft herbs and slices of lemon and garlic, the fish is cooked until the skin turns crisp, with striking grill lines. It comes with a slightly sharp herby sauce, which adds a burst of greenness as well as lots of flavour.
1 × 2kg wild sea bass, gutted and scaled
olive oil, for coating
2 handfuls of flat-leaf parsley leaves
leaves from a handful of lemon thyme sprigs
1 large lemon, sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
5 bay leaves
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
lemon wedges and crusty bread, to serve
FOR THE VERDE SAUCE
7 anchovy fillets in vinegar, or 4 if using salted
10g wild garlic leaves or 1 garlic clove, peeled 2 tbsp capers
20g basil leaves
15g flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 heaped tbsp lemon thyme leaves
juice of ½ lemon
125ml extra-virgin olive oil sea salt and freshly ground
To make the verde sauce, rinse the anchovies if using salted, then put them and the remaining ingredients, apart from the olive oil, into a mini food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Gradually pour in the olive oil and blend to a fairly smooth sauce, then season with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, if you prefer a chunkier sauce, finely chop the anchovies, garlic, capers and herbs, or use
a pestle and mortar, then add the lemon juice. Gradually stir in the oil.) Spoon the sauce into a bowl and set aside.
Light the fire pit (or you could use a wood-fired grill or a barbecue) about 30 minutes before cooking, following the instructions on page 76. You want a medium-high heat on one half of the fire-pit grill (check out the method for two-zone cooking on page 78). The rack should be about 20cm above the heat source.
Rinse the sea bass in cold running water, then pat dry inside and out with kitchen paper. You could cut a slash behind the head to enable heat to reach the collar, but I don’t tend to slash the sides – the skill is in creating bass crackling.
Rub the fish all over with a good coating of olive oil. Stuff the parsley, thyme, lemon slices and garlic into the fish cavity, then top with the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
Rub the grill rack with the cut side of the onion to stop the fish sticking to it, then put the sea bass directly on the hot side of the fire-pit grill. Grill the sea bass for 4 minutes on each side, carefully turning/rolling it over using two fish slices. Move the fish over to the cooler side of the grill and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until the skin is crisp and the flesh starts to flake away from the bone, especially around the base of the head.
Serve the sea bass with a splash of olive oil and the lemon wedges, verde sauce and chunky slices of crusty bread.
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