Whole Grilled Fish a la Mom&Dad

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I’m writing today from in-flight wifi on my flight back to Dallas! This weekend I went home to see my parents for the first time in ages. Of course my mom called me the days before asking me, “What do you want to eat??!” I had recently dined at Chow Thai in Addison where they had awesome, super fresh spring rolls, so I had spring rolls on the mind and happily requested whole grilled fish spring rolls.

In our family, spring rolls have always held a prominent place in the dining rotation. We’ve spring rolled everything from grilled fish, to sweet grilled pork, to boiled shrimp, to van de kamp’s fish sticks.  My mom lays out an entire table of heaping plates of greens (lettuce, mints, bean sprouts, cucumbers, other fragrant fresh herbs), rice noodles, rice paper, fish sauce, and the meat of the day. We all dig in and compete over happy mothfuls to see who can wrap the biggest or neatest spring roll.  Having lived on my own for quite a while now, I’ve brought this tradition on to my friends and have found some very skilled spring roll wrappers amongst them. 🙂

So, this weekend, we went to the nearby vietnamese market to pick out a fresh fish to prepare for the requested meal. My parents took on the task of picking out the fish as, to be honest, I’m still a little squeamish at the smell of the fish market at asian stores! The picked out a LARGE red snapper and took him home with us. My parents passed on some good tips on picking fresh fish:

  • Make sure the eyes are clear, not cloudy, otherwise your fish is not fresh
  • Some old asian ladies will sniff under the gills of the fish to make sure it doesn’t stink

I think i’ll go with the first tip for now!

My parents also requested the fish to NOT be scaled. I thought this was strange, but they explained to me that keeping the scales on the fish provides a built in encasing layer that will seal in the juiciness of the fish, prevent the meat from burning when the skin does, and keeps the fish from sticking to the grill. cool!  My parents’ recipe was so simple and delicious and I’m eager to try my hand at it once I get home.


  • 1 whole fresh fish – red snapper is great!
  • 1 head red/green leaf lettuce (this wil not have too stiff of a spine to get in the way of rolling your spring rolls)
  • any variety of fresh herbs like mint, basil, cilantro, etc
  • 1 package thin rice noodles/vermicelli
  • 1/2 cup dried minced onion
  • 1 scallion minced
  • olive oil
  • crushed roasted peanuts
  1. Clean and pat dry the fish. Wait for your dad to heat up the grill….just kidding! Heat your grill up to around 250 degrees.
  2. Place the fish on foil in the grill and cook 15 min per side.
  3. Just before the fish is done cooking, heat some oil in a pot, add the dried minced onions and stir to cook til just golden and remove from heat. Add the chopped scallions and stir.
  4. Once the fish is done, bring it inside. The skin + scales have now turned into this thick armor like layer that you can peel off pretty easily. Peel all the skin off and remove any tail/fin that is in the way. You can also remove the head if it feels strange to have your food looking at you while you eat. 😉 Place the whoel fish on a serving dish.
  5. Pour about 1/2 the oil + onion mix over the fish meat and spread to cover. This mix imparts just enough flavor to complement the firm, fleshy white meat.
  6. Top with crushed peanuts
  7. Bring to the table and dig in, each person grabbing the meat directly off the fish, onto their plate, and into their spring roll!
  8. Once you have worked your way through the top half of the fish and now see the spine, you can pull the whole spine out, and add more of the oil/onion mix on top of the other 1/2 of the meat.  It is bad luck to flip the fish over, according to Navy traditions (my dad is ex-Navy) b/c it means you’ll flip your boat over! 😉


Fish Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1-2 limes to taste
  • about 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • minced garlic
  • chili paste
  1. Mix the water & sugar & lime til it tastes sweet enough to be a limeade. The add the fish sauce by the spoonfull til the color is about an amber color. Add the garlic and chili paste to taste.
  2. This is a complete guess on the proportions, but I thought I’d throw it out there!


Hope you enjoy this exceedingly simple, fresh, and delicious meal!

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