During the Great QUAR of 2020, my buddy Chris Kronner starting selling this insanely high-quality fish and shellfish in the LA area. He was like a seafood Santa Claus delivering ocean goodies right to your door. He turned me on to this fig leaf–wrapped whole fish, which blew my mind. The fig leaves help the fish steam while infusing the flesh with this subtle leaf flavor. Up to that point, I’d always done my whole fish right on the grill. That gives you a lovely, crispy charred skin, so if you don’t have access to fig leaves, you can oil your grates really well and grill the fish without the wrapping.
But if you wanna go to the next level of flavor and moistness, and you have friends or neighbors with fig trees in their yard, sneak off in the night and snip off a few leaves to use here.
Once again, the key is to make friends with your fishmonger. Ask what’s the best fish they have whole for grilling. Branzino is always a safe bet and a super-delicious fish! I’ve had many a whole branzino in Greece and Italy. Fishmongers will clean it for you, so all you need to do is stuff it with aromatics. Paired with a crisp, cold white wine and seasoned simply with herbs, lemon, and flaky sea salt, this is one of my fave fish experiences ever.
- To make the salsa verde: An hour before you plan to grill (this gives your flavors time to infuse), in a mortar, combine the parsley, capers, garlic, anchovy, and 2 teaspoons salt and, using a pestle, crush into a rough paste. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk until you have a well-integrated emulsion. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, chop the parsley, capers, garlic, anchovy, and salt into as fine a paste as possible, occasionally smashing the mixture with the flat of your knife. Then transfer it to a bowl, stir in the lemon juice, and drizzle in the olive oil.) Taste and season with more salt or lemon juice as needed. Set aside.
- Season each fish generously with salt and pepper, making sure to get inside the cavity as well. Layer the lemon slices and the herb sprigs inside the cavities.
- Arrange the fig leaves on your work surface, overlapping them to form an oval that’s wide enough to enclose the body of a fish. Drizzle olive oil on the fig leaves where you plan to place the fish, then lay the fish on top and drizzle more oil on top of that. Wrap the leaves so that the body of the fish is completely covered (you can leave the head and tail exposed), then use butcher’s twine to secure the fig leaves in place. Repeat with the remaining fig leaves and fish.
- Prepare your grill for indirect cooking over medium-high heat. Season the grates by rubbing plenty of neutral oil all over with a paper towel. (Use tongs for this.)
- Place the fig leaf–wrapped fish on the grates and grill for 6 minutes, then, using tongs and a spatula, gently flip the fish and cook on the other side for 6 minutes more. At this point, peek under the fig leaves and check the fish for doneness: the flesh should be opaque and flaky. If it is still translucent, continue cooking.
- Remove the twine and peel back the fig leaves and skin to reveal the tender flesh, then drizzle with the salsa verde and sprinkled with herb leaves. Serve the fish with lemon wedges on the side.