Flatfish turns buttery and crisp-skinned on the grill. Here's how to make it at home.

By Robin Bashinsky
Updated May 09, 2019
Greg DuPree

Inspired by chef Joshua Skenes’ whole grilled petrale sole at Angler restaurant in San Francisco, we set out to master grilling flatfish, which are sustainably caught off the West Coast. These delicate fish aren’t typically grilled—they’re prone to drying out or falling apart—but with the right technique, their flesh stays buttery and juicy, and it takes on a light smoky flavor and sizzling skin when grilled over hot coals. Air-drying the fish first helps to firm the fillets, which grill up crispy; using a grilling basket guarantees the fish won’t stick to the grill and is easy to flip. Finally, deboning the fish at the table makes this the party trick of the summer. Here, a step-by-step guide on how to prep your own grilled flatfish:

1. Scrub with Salt

Greg DuPree

Scrub fresh, cleaned flatfish with coarse sea salt to clean the slick skin of the fish. Rinse the fish well, inside and out, and pat dry thoroughly. Removing impurities from the skin ensures it dries completely.

2. Air Dry

Greg DuPree

Place fish on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; refrigerate, uncovered, until skin of fish is very dry, at least 36 hours.

3. Rub with Oil

Greg DuPree

Just before grilling, coat fish with a thin layer of oil to help conduct heat and prevent the fish from sticking to the grill basket.

4. Grill in Basket

Greg DuPree

Place fish in a large grill basket. Without closing basket, grill over medium-hot embers, uncovered, until skin is slightly charred and shrinks away from basket, 8 to 10 minutes. Close basket.

5. Flip and Grill

Greg DuPree

Flip fish, and open basket. Grill, uncovered, until fish flakes easily in the thickest part behind head, 8 to 10 minutes. (Opening the basket reduces pressure on the delicately cooked fish, preserving its texture and appearance.)

6. Platter Up

Greg DuPree

Using two fish spatulas, immediately transfer fish to a platter large enough to accommodate the fish while bones are removed for serving.

7. Remove Fins

Greg DuPree

Using a fork to stabilize fish and a spoon to gently cut through the skin and flesh, follow contours of fish to remove bony fins from either side.

8. Remove Tail

Greg DuPree

Press tines of fork into joint where tail connects to spine; use spoon to lift tail and snap joint, and free the tail by cutting with edge of spoon. Repeat to remove head, first locating top of spine, then lifting head with spoon to snap joint.

9. Fillet

Greg DuPree

Place tines of fork on one side of spine, and use spoon to gently push fillet away from spine and off of bones. Take care to maintain fillet’s shape. Repeat with remaining top fillet.

10. Remove Spine

Greg DuPree

Using a fork, lift spine with bones attached, and use a spoon to loosen any flesh that sticks to bones. Remove spine; separate bottom fillets along center line. Serve immediately.

Get the full Grilled Whole Flatfish with Lemon-Herb Butter Recipe here.