Charcoal-Grilled Whole Fish, Wrapped in Fig-Leaves

It makes sense to grill more fish than you need to serve and make a fish salad with the delicious leftovers (see NOTE)


Serves 4

2 Mediterranean Sea bass (Branzino), Sea Bream, Red Snapper (wild) or similar firm-fleshed, not too lean fish (each about 1 1/2 pounds –no larger than 2 pounds), gutted and scaled
Sea salt
2 sprigs fresh oregano or thyme (optional)
4 large fig leaves with stems – ideally, the leaf should be able to wrap around the fish, leaving the tip of the tail and part of the head exposed. If your leaves are smaller, use more of them
Olive oil, to brush the fig leaves

Olive Oil-Lemon-Oregano dressing (Ladolemono)
1/2 cup good, fruity olive oil
1/4- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, to taste
2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Start your fire. The coals should be very hot.


Wash the fish under running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Salt each fish inside and out. If you want, add a sprig of fresh oregano or thyme in the belly cavity.

Wash the fig leaves and pat dry with kitchen paper. Leave the stems on, which keeps them from disintegrating over the fire. Lightly rub both sides of each leaf with olive oil. It is better done with your hand than with a brush.

Place one fish on a fig leaf.  You will see that it fits almost perfectly. The stem of the leaf should be at the head of the fish. The main parts of the leaf will envelop the fish’s body, and the tip of the leaf goes near the tail. Holding the wrapped fish on your palm, belly-side down, carefully place it on the grill. Prepare the second fish, then place it tightly next to the other on the grill. Keep the rest of the fig-leaves aside.


Test the fire: you need to be able keep your hand about 8-10 inch from the coals and count to 10 before it is so hot you need to remove your hand.  Have a spray bottle filled with water at hand. You may need to spritz the coals with water to lower the temperature. Place the grill with the fish at about 8-10 inches from the fire.


In about 12-15 minutes, when the eyes of the fish look opaque and cooked, wearing fire-resistant gloves hold one of the remaining fig leaves over the first fish. With the help of a large spatula, grab the fish and flip it over – the new leaf will be under the flipped fish. Do the same with the other fish and leaf. If, when you flip the fish it seems a bit uncooked, don’t worry, it will cook slowly. If one fish looks more done than the other, rearrange them on the grill or move the coals around to distribute the heat.


Keep checking the heat as you cook; you may need to spritz with water again if the coals get too hot.  You need a good fire, but you do not want to burn the fish and dry it of its juices. Depending on the exact size of each fish and your fire, the fish will need a total of about 25-35 minutes, but check for doneness earlier. Make a small incision with a knife and push the flesh with a fork to look at the backbone: when the backbone starts to get opaque, almost white, the fish is done and should be removed from the grill. The flesh should be white and juicy, not translucent.

While the fish is on the grill, prepare the dressing: In a jar with lid, combine the olive oil, lemon, oregano, salt and pepper. Close the lid and shake well to mix. Transfer to a sauceboat.

Place the grilled fish on a platter. Open the fish and filet them, serving half a fish on each of the four plates without discarding the burned and caramelized bits of the fig leaves – they are edible and delicious. Pour some sauce over the fish and pass the rest of the sauce around. Whoever wants can eat the head, which when carefully de-boned has some of the most delicious morsels.

It makes sense to grill more fish than you need and to serve it as fish salad the next day. Bone and flake any leftover grilled fish, douse with the dressing, adding 1-2 cloves minced garlic and chopped flat leaf parsley and/or fresh oregano.
Toss and serve with steamed potatoes.


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