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A Foolproof Grilled Fish Recipe, Ready in 25 Minutes

A Foolproof Grilled Fish Recipe, Ready in 25 Minutes

FIN DINING A whole fish looks spectacular on the table. And grilling it intact—head, tail and all—helps protect the flesh from overcooking.



Photo:

JENNY HUANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, FOOD STYLING BY SEAN DOOLEY, PROP STYLING BY CATHERINE PEARSON

THE CHEF: MELISSA RODRIGUEZ



Illustration:

Michael Hoeweler

Her Restaurants: Mel’s, in New York City; Al Coro and Discolo, both soon to open, also in Manhattan

What She’s Known For: Italian cooking with finesse. Technical command in the service of inviting flavor combinations.

“I LIKE CHALLENGES,” said chef Melissa Rodriguez. At her restaurant Mel’s, which opened in Manhattan in March, she had a choice: Cook over gas or live fire. “I chose fire because I’d never done it and thought it would be fun to learn,” she said, gamely.

She’s risen to the challenge and developed her own style in the process. “If something tastes better grilled, it tends to work best when less is done to it,” she said. Simple though it may be, Ms. Rodriguez’s final Slow Food Fast recipe delivers real depth of flavor, plus a few quiet flourishes. “We didn’t just say let’s do a whole grilled branzino,” the chef said. “We tested a lot of fish.”

The branzino gets a fragrant rub of minced preserved lemon and fennel seed. Grilling it on the bone, with head and tail intact, helps guard against overcooking. Just leave the fish on the oiled grate, undisturbed, until it naturally releases. The accompanying mostarda of fresh lemon and fennel comes together in minutes, and it plays beautifully with that delicious rub on the fish. “Of all the dishes at Mel’s, this definitely gets the strongest reaction,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “People really love it.”

The branzino gets a fragrant rub of minced preserved lemon and fennel seed. The accompanying mostarda of fresh lemon and fennel comes together in minutes, and it plays beautifully with that delicious rub on the fish.

JENNY HUANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, FOOD STYLING BY SEAN DOOLEY, PROP STYLING BY CATHERINE PEARSON

Ingredients

  • 2 whole branzino, gutted and cleaned, with heads and tails intact
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Rind of 2 preserved lemons, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small fennel bulb, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 4 fresh lemons, halved and seeded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Preheat a grill to medium-high and make sure the grate is clean. Rub fish all over with 2 tablespoons olive oil, minced preserved lemon rind and fennel seeds. Season fish cavity and exterior with salt, and set aside.
  2. Make the mostarda: Swirl 3 tablespoons oil into a medium, heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in minced fennel and onions, and sauté until edges begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Cut 8 thin slices from cut sides of fresh lemon halves, then mince lemon slices. Stir minced fresh lemon into fennel-onion sauté. Add garlic and season with salt. Sauté until flavors meld and vegetables soften, about 4 minutes more. Set mostarda aside.
  3. Once the grill is hot, coat the grate in olive oil. Lay fish onto hot grate and cook, undisturbed, until fish naturally pulls away from grate and the tip of a thin knife inserted into the thickest part of the fish emerges warm to the touch, about 8 minutes per side. As the fish grills, lay remaining halved lemons, cut-side down, onto hot grill and cook until blackened, about 2 minutes.
  4. Finish fish with a drizzle of raw olive oil. Serve with lemon-fennel mostarda and grilled lemon halves.

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