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Whole Fish: My Extraordinary Experience Eating Directly From the Ecosystem

Debra Redalia



Since the latest wildfire had been filling our air with unhealthy levels of air pollution (ashes were falling like snow) on 28 September Larry and I went to stay with a friend of a friend (who is now our friend, too) way up in Northern California right on the Pacific Ocean. We were so close to the water that we could hear the fluctuation of waves as they varied from gentle to strong throughout the day and night.

Joseph, our host, is a fisherman, so when he offered me fish for dinner and I politely declined, he said, “Do you not like fish because it tastes fishy?”

When I said yes, he said, “The reason it tastes fishy is because if you eat commercial fish, by the time it gets to the supermarket it’s about a week old. Fresh-caught fish doesn’t taste fishy.

The next evening he served me a taste of black rockfish that he had caught himself, and a sample of [sashimi grade tuna]=link. While it wasn’t love-at-first-bite, I was willing to eat both and have a second bite of the sashimi. But more importantly, it changed my viewpoint about fish. I became willing to explore fish for the first time in my entire life.

With my [wholefood cuisine]=link-to-glossary-entry viewpoint, my ideal would be to eat local line-caught fish cooked and served whole. Larry loves to fish, and this has been one area of life I haven’t been willing to share. Now I’m actually interested in going fishing with him, catching a fish, and cooking it over a fire and eating it right in it’s habitat. I’m actually excited to go do this.

I think it’s important to see the whole fish on the plate and get to know the fish. Know it’s name and home and charateristics—what it looks like and tastes like, as opposed to anonymous filets of flesh from the supermarket. Make a connection with the entire ecosystem of the Earth and the continuum of food through this one species.

The next day Joseph went fishing and brought back fish that was only hours out of the water.

I’m going to give you some links here that others who are much more experienced than I have written about how to prepare and serve whole fish.

Try it. It’s easy.

SERIOUS EATS: The Easiest Way to Cook Fish: Roast it Whole
SERIOUS EATS: How to Carve and Serve Whole Cooked Fish
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Nose-to-Tail, Sea-Style: 12 Recipes for Whole Fish

I ordered The Whole Fish Cookbook because it was about whole fish and it had rave reviews from chefs I recognized from around the world. But it turned out to be completely different from what I thought it would be.

My idea of “whole fish” was the whole fish body on a plate, as in the photo above. The whole body is there, but you are still eating the usual fillet. No, this is not that book. What you’ll find here is a the whole nose-to-tail philosophy for animals applied to fish. But not only is it about eating all the parts of the fish, the author also advocates eating the whole ocean—all the different species of fish instead of just the popular salmon, tuna, etcetera.

What I loved about this book is it agrees with my concept of whole food, to a degree. He’s very creative about ways to use all the parts and even includes a big photo of all the parts of the fish. You’ll learn how to make fish bacon and fish ham and other meat dishes using fish. I would have liked to see more dishes inspired by the fish itself.

What was missing for me was a basic introduction to fish. I am not familiar with fish, so when he says “Here are some good fish to bake…” the list of fish names means nothing to me.

In the end, this book is worth reading for ideas about cooking the whole fish and all the fish in the sea, but it didn’t help me actually cook or otherwise prepare fish I could actually find at my local stores.

If you love fish, this book will open a whole new world about how to choose them and prepare them.

From The Whole Fish Cookbook:


[In this book] I hope you’ll find that fish isn’t the smellu, slimy and bony ingredient that strikes fear into all of us, but is rather something that is individual—spieces to species and piece to piece—each coming with its own characteristis and a method of cookery that suits it best.


Understanding the different parts of a fish and the methods of fish cookery thoroughtly will put you in a better place as a cook to harness the potential excellence of every fish.


Cooking fish can be extremely difficult due to the exhausting number of variables involved. These range from what time of year it is, what hour of the day the fish was caught and how it was caught, to how it was then transported to market…and the time from in which this takes place. There’s also the question of how the fish has been stored and prepared…for me, if one of these is not considered, the chain comes apart and the excellence in fish cookery that I want to achieve iwll not be possible.


Whew. That is a lot of variables to consider.! Since reading this and sampling fresh-caught fish, I’ve been looking locally for what’s available here in Sonoma County, California, just north of San Francisco. A lot of fillets in the fresh fish counter, some frozen wrapped in plastic. I acttually haven’t found a whole fish yet anywhere. Larry and I are going to go down to Bodega Bay to the fish markets soon, and also go fishing ourselves. If you lived in Australia, you could go down to the author’s shop Food Butchery (read their about) where they do know these detailss about every fish they sell.

I want to know these details about every food I eat.