Baked Whole Fish in Garlic-Chili Sauce

Whole baked fish
Ekaterina Smirnova / Getty Images
  • 35 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 25 mins
  • Yield: Serves 2 to 4
Ratings (37)

While fresh whole fish is usually grilled outdoors in Thailand, in certain parts of North America we often have to come up with alternate cooking methods due to weather conditions. Here's a fish recipe that can either be baked indoors or grilled on your BBQ. A variety of white-fleshed fish can be used, including red snapper, gray mullet, rainbow trout, tilapia or whatever you have that's fresh and good. If you prefer a more authentic approach, bake your fish in banana leaves instead of aluminum foil.

What You'll Need

  • 1 or 2 whole red snapper, gray mullet, rainbow trout or tilapia, fresh or frozen
  • A generous handful fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • A handful fresh basil
  • Lemon slices or wedges for serving
  • Oil (if grilling fish)
  • Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 8 to 10 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
  • 1 to 3 red chilies, sliced, or 2 tsp. or more ​Thai chili sauce (adjust the amount according to how spicy you'd like the fish)

How to Make It

If using frozen fish, be sure to thaw it thoroughly before cooking. This can be done quickly by soaking fish in a bowl or sink of cool water.

If your fish hasn't been cleaned: Make a cut along the underside of fish from the head to 3/4 of the way toward the tail. Reach inside to remove guts and discard. Rinse fish inside and out. Remove scales by scraping a large knife along the fish's surface, scraping from the tail toward head until most of the scales have been removed.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F or heat grill to medium.
  2. Stir all sauce ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Place fish on a cutting board and score it by making vertical cuts an inch or more apart along the length of fish from head to tail. Turn fish over and do the same on the other side.
  4. For Baked Fish: Place fish on a large piece of aluminum foil or banana leaf. Make sure the foil or leaf is big enough to cover and wrap the fish. 
  5. Drizzle 3 tablespoons (or more) of the sauce over the fish, covering both sides. Be sure to spoon some into the cuts you've made, as well as into the underside cavity. Reserve the rest for later.
  6. Bring the long sides of the foil up and over the fish, scrunching it together. Try to keep the foil off the surface of the fish, making a kind of shallow tent over it. Fold up each end and scrunch to secure. If using banana leaf, fold the sides and ends of the leaf over fish to cover it. With banana leaf, you actually want the leaf to come into contact with the fish, as this adds to the flavor.
  7. Bake the fish in the foil directly on your oven rack. If you're worried about spillage, you can place wrapped fish on a baking sheet or tray and place in the oven. Fish wrapped in banana leaf will require a dish or tray, as a banana leaf is porous.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or longer, depending on the size and thickness of your fish. Remove fish from oven and check some of the deeper cuts to see if the inner flesh is cooked (it should be opaque, not pink or translucent-looking). If fish still needs more time, return to your oven for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked.
  9. To finish the fish, remove from oven and open up the foil, scrunching it around the fish to create a kind of bowl. If using banana leaf, simply open up the leaf, which will have become drier and slightly crispy.
  10. Pour remaining sauce over fish and return to the oven. Turn oven to broil setting, and broil for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the fish is nicely browned and crisp-looking. Banana leaves will become quite brown and fragrant.
  11. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the fish with fresh coriander and basil. Add lemon wedges or slices.
  • To grill fish: Brush your grill with a little oil to keep fish from sticking (if using a fish cage, it also helps to brush it with oil).
  • Drizzle 3 tablespoons (or more) of the sauce over the fish, covering both sides. Be sure to spoon some into the cuts you've made, as well as into the underside cavity.
  • Grill fish 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the size and thickness of the fish, and how hot your grill is). Allow fish to cook for at least 5 minutes before turning it the first time - otherwise, the skin may stick to the grill and tear.
  • Use remaining sauce to baste as your barbecue, or pour over fish right before serving. Fish is done when inner flesh is opaque and no longer pink or translucent. To serve, top with fresh coriander and basil, plus wedges of lime or lemon.