Big Fish on the Forge
12-15 pound NC Golden Tilefish (scaled/gutted/fins snipped/gills removed)
2 ounces fresh thyme (on the sprig, which comes to about two bunches)
4 fresh bay leaves
1 small head fennel (with fronds)
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
Black peppercorn in a grinder
Butcher’s twine, cut in 10 16-inch pieces
Neutral cooking oil
Slice the lemons in half (pole-to-pole), and then into ¼ -inch thick half moons. Cut thyme springs into 1-inch long pieces. Thinly slice the bay leaves. Thinly slice the fennel bulb and stems into 1/8-inch thick slices. Chop the parsley (stems and all) into 1-inch long pieces
In a mixing bowl, mix all of the above ingredients with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, about 40 cracks of fresh ground pepper, and half a cup of olive oil. Set aside
Season the fish inside and out with kosher salt. Season with about twice the amount you would season a filleted side of fish with
Next, stuff the herb and citrus mixture into the cavity of the fish. Pack it in tightly... we want the fish have the same shape it had when it came out of the water before it was gutted. I put some of the mixture in where the gills were as well. (This keeps the meat that is in the head and close to the collar from drying out, and gives it flavor.)
Next, using the sections of butcher’s twine, tie the fish shut. Starting at the beginning of the incision, tie 1 piece of twine around the fish’s “equator”; repeat with the remaining twine, spacing out the ties every 2 inches. I lay the twine out on the counter, spacing it every 2”, and then I lay the fish on top of the twine. I make my knots near the spine of the fish, as this is the most structurally sound place to tie a knot
Burn down a pile of hardwood logs (I use post oak) in the Sea Island Forge until you have a large, glowing bed of embers. Lower the grill top down close to the coals, allowing it to heat up. Once hot, raise it back up
Use a kitchen towel to rub the surface down with a neutral cooking oil. Place the fish on the grill and lower it back down to the coals to create a sear (about 5 minutes). Raise it back up, and using 2 spatulas, carefully flip* the fish. *Before flipping, use the edge of the spatula to make sure the fish skin isn’t sticking. If it is sticking, use the sharpest edge of the spatula to free the skin from the grill as you flip (this will keep the skin intact, and help to keep the meat juicy). Lower the fish back down to the coals, duplicating the sear from the first side (again, about 5 minutes). Then, raise the fish back up.
Cover the fish with a SIF dome, and allow it to slow roast. Cook until the thickest part of the fish is fork tender at the bone, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
At this point, lower the fish back down to the coals and allow to roast for 5 more minutes with the dome on. This will add one last kick of smoky goodness to the fish, and a little more crispness to the skin. The citrus stuffing, and the fact that the fish is whole and on the bone, will keep the fish from over cooking with the extra blast of heat.
Raise the grill back up, and swing the grate away from the fire. Call in a pal, and have them hold a sheet tray large enough to support the whole fish near the grill grate, and a few inches lower. Use the 2 spatulas to move the fish off of the grill grate, and on to the tray. Allow fish to rest for 15 minutes, and then use sharp scissors to snip and remove the butcher’s twine
Present the fish whole, and use 2 larger spoons to slide the meat off of the rib cage. Pulling the meat as you need it (vs. pulling all of the meat off at once) will keep the meat warm and juicy