This Rockfish recipe is easy to prepare, incredibly delicious with just a few simple fresh ingredients, and the presentation is stunning!
The fish is baked whole but the recipe notes include instructions for Rockfish fillets as well.
If you’ve ever thought it might be daunting to cook a whole fish, this Rockfish recipe with lemon and herbs will prove it’s pretty easy — and so delicious!
It bursts with fresh flavors and the fish is so incredibly succulent.
What is Rockfish?
- There are close to a hundred species of Rockfish in the Pacific coast of North America. So when you use a Rockfish recipe, it’s not necessarily a specific kind.
- Boccacio, Canary, Chili, Flag, Green Striped, Starry, White Belly, Yelloweye and Vermillion are some of the more common Rockfish.
- The varieties of Rockfish range in size and color patterns. The colors may vary from black and green to orange and red, and some have stripes or splotches. They have big eyes and very large mouths that dip downward at the corners.
- Rockfish can be recognized from their bony plates on their heads and bodies and the heavy spines on their fins.
- While they can live in a variety of habitats like on the seafloor and in kelp forests, the name Rockfish comes from the fact that they generally live on rocky reefs and rest on rocks at the bottom of kelp forests.
- Rockfish recipes can be baked, sautéed, fried, poached and steamed.
What does Rockfish taste like?
The different species will vary, but Rockfish are generally a mild fish with a subtle sweet, nut-like flavor. Their oil content is not too high, making them lean and slightly firm, with a lovely flaky quality.
What’s in this Rockfish Recipe?
- Vermilion Rockfish
- extra virgin olive oil
- lemon juice and slices
- fresh thyme
- sweet paprika
- salt, pepper
How to Make it
- Prepare the fish. Your fish monger should sell the fish already gutted and cleaned, and instructions for scaling are below.
- Season the fish. Place the fish on a foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle olive oil on top and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully turn the fish over and repeat this process. Season the inside cavity as well.
- Score the fish if desired. (More about scoring fish is below under "Recipe Tips.") Use the tip of a very sharp knife to cut slits across the top of the fish. They should only cut through the skin — try not to cut into the flesh.
- In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice with oil, thyme and paprika and drizzle it all over the top of the fish.
- Bake. Bake the fish in a 425°F oven just until it’s cooked through, about 15 minutes. (The internal temperature should be about 140°F, and the flesh should flake easily.) If it’s slightly translucent near the center, that’s okay!
- Broil the fish if necessary. If the skin did not become crisp and golden by the time it’s cooked, remove it from the oven, broil just until it’s golden brown and sizzling. Watch it carefully as it could just take seconds.
(More detailed instructions are below.)
Recipe Tips and Substitutions
- To score or not to score. Scoring the fish is to make thin slits with a knife just through the skin. Usually a couple, and sometimes in pretty diamond patterns. Scoring can make the presentation more interesting and creates a crispier skin. However, sometimes leaving the skin intact keeps in more moisture because there’s a little layer of fat that’s just beneath the skin. I’ve cooked a whole fish both ways, and haven’t noticed a big difference. I like that when I score it, the flavors I add can seep into the flesh.
- Use any fresh herbs you like. I love thyme with this as it has a slight lemony flavor. Basil, oregano, and dill would also be lovely. (If you use rosemary, use about a teaspoon less, as a little can go a long way.)
- To prevent the tail and fins from burning, wrap them in foil about halfway through the cooking process.
- Part of the fun of baking a whole fish is the dramatic presentation. To eat it this way, you can just dig in with a fork, or use a knife to carve. It’s a bit more cumbersome to serve and eat it whole — there are bones to deal with, and it can be messy. So if you want to, you can remove the fish from the bones to serve it. (Learn how to carve a whole fish here.)
- Please be careful when you're handling a whole Rockfish! The bony plates on their heads and bodies and heavy spines on their fins can be very sharp!
Can you Make this Rockfish recipe ahead?
I don't recommend it. As with most fish recipes, this is absolutely the best right out of the oven. Leftovers can be delicious used in other recipes though (see below suggestions).
What to do With Leftover Fish
- Although the general rule of thumb is to eat fresh fish as soon as it’s cooked, leftover fish recipes can be quite delicious.
- Leftover fish — especially flaky Rockfish, is perfect in stews and soups as their firm texture holds up very well. I often use leftover fish in my Summer Fish Stew or Smoky Tomato Fish Stew.
- Leftover fish is also great to mix with a bit of mayonnaise, finely chopped onion and pickle relish. Make a sandwich with it, as you would canned tuna fish.
You will definitely wow guests (and yourself!) with this amazingly succulent Rockfish recipe. The lemon and herbs put it over the top, and the presentation is a show-stopper.
* Please see recipe note for baking rockfish fillets rather than the whole fish.
Rockfish Recipe (Baked with Lemon)
- Preheat the oven and prep the pan. Preheat the oven to 425°F, adjust a rack to the top third of the oven, and line a sheet pan with foil.
- Prep the fish. Your fish should already be gutted and cleaned. If it's not already scaled, use a fish scaler brush or the back of a knife by rubbing it in the opposite direction of the scales. This might be a bit messy, as the scales tend to “pop” off, but it’s quite easy. Rinse the fish and then pat it dry with paper towels.
- Season the fish. Place the fish on the foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the oil on the fish and gently rub it in. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully turn the fish over and repeat this process. Then season the inside cavity with salt and pepper.
- Score the fish if desired. Use the tip of a very sharp knife to cut three slits, about two inches apart, diagonally across the top of the fish. The slits should only cut through the skin — try not to cut into the flesh.
- Add the lemon and herbs. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice with the remaining tablespoon of oil, thyme and paprika. Drizzle this all over the top of the fish.
- Bake the fish. Place the sheet pan in the preheated 425°F oven and bake just until the fish is cooked through, about 15 minutes. (You can test this by checking the internal temperature which should be about 140°F, and/or use a sharp knife or fork to peek into the flesh near the center. The flesh should flake easily and be opaque. (If it’s slightly translucent near the center, that’s okay.)
- Broil the fish if necessary. If the skin doesn't become crisp and golden by the time it’s cooked, remove it from the oven, turn on the broiler and adjust a rack so the fish will be a couple of inches below it. Place the fish beneath the broiler just until it’s golden brown and sizzling. Watch it carefully as it could just take seconds.
- Serve! Serve the finished fish immediately.
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