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)
- 1 whole (approximately 3 pound) Rockfish (I used Vermilion)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- lemon slices and thyme sprigs for garnish
- 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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The fish looks so tender and succulent. I don't remember when I last had a rockfish any more...I usually had them steamed with lots of ginger, onion and a splash of hot chili oil...gotta try your oven version as soon as I find some to try.
Thanks, Angie. Now I'm inspired to make it steamed with ginger, onion and chili oil! YUM. That sounds amazing! 🙂 ~Valentina
I'm not sure if I've ever eaten rockfish, but your recipe is something I'd definitely adore! Have a wonderful week, Valentina!
Thanks, Liz. Hope you can try a rockfish one day. 🙂 ~Valentina
Homework needed as I have never heard of rockfish in Australia and yet, as you say, it is a Pacific creature ! Perhaps it is sold under a different name here. Living basically alone I cook whole fish when friends come or are staying . . .usually steaming such with aromats Chinese-style. I like your simple version very much. For many years I did not score my whole fish exactly for fear of losing moisture - watching so many chefs on local cooking shows almost automatically do so have begun to use the practice also and achieved good results if careful. . . so to get a perfectly fresh and delectable creature into the pan . . .
Eha, I would love whole fish cooked with Asian flavors. Sounds so delicious! Over rice -- yum! Thanks for your note. 🙂 ~Valentina
David @ Spiced
Cooking an entire fish at once is indeed a bit daunting, however you've got me intrigued now! I love a good flaky white fish, and this sounds like a delicious recipe. Also, that's a great idea to make "tuna fish" using the leftovers. I bet that would make for one heck of an awesome sandwich the next day for lunch!
Thanks, David. Happy you're intrigued. Hope you give it a go and enjoy! 🙂 ~Valentina
David Scott Allen
This looks absolutely fantastic, Valentina - now, I need to find out if I can get a whole rockfish! Any thoughts for a substitute? I know AZ isn't far from the California coast, but we don't get a lot of whole fish here...
Thanks, David. I've also cooked a whole Striped Bass the same way and it was a great success. Only problem is they're very big -- about 5 lbs and up. I did it for a big group, but it was a bit tricky to maneuver. Red Snapper and Trout are great choices too -- and you can get them on the small side. Hope you come across some. Enjoy and have a great weekend. 🙂 ~Valentina
David Scott Allen
Hi - I saw the fish monger today and he said he can order rockfish for me. Yay! I have wanted to try it so this will be fun!
This makes me so happy, David. It's fun to make and you and Mark enjoy it! Hope you are both saying well and that you had a lovely weekend. 🙂 ~Valentina
Dawn - Girl Heart Food
Love the presentation! And with herbs and lemon, this must be so delicious, Valentina! So perfect for entertaining 🙂
Thank you, Dawn. Big compliment from someone with so many amazing fish recipes! 🙂 ~Valentina
Did filets. Delicious. Great recipe! Will try with the other herbs mentioned.
Thanks so much for writing in. So happy you enjoyed this recipe. It's fun to mix up the herbs. Enjoy! 🙂 ~Valentina
Made this with fillets and it was easy and delicious. Even the picky eaters in my family liked it.
That's fantastic, Kelly. So happy it was a hit and thanks so much for sharing. 🙂 ~Valentina
I made it with "mystery" "rock cod" from Safeway and it tasted great! (It looked like the rockfish images on the Internet, complete with spiny fins.)
I used sage and rosemary as I had fresh on hand and they worked very well.
Thank you for this useful and easy recipe.
You are so welcome. So happy you liked it! I bet the rosemary and sage were delicious! 🙂 ~Valentina
Hello, I just received some Rockfish fillets from a friend. I will try your lemon recipe and post the result later based upon what many has said I know I will enjoy.
Hi! I hope you enjoy it! 😀 ~Valentina
this is beautiful - a lovely presentation! I love the sweet paprika choice in your seasonings. Happy New Year!
Thank you, Mimi! I'm never without both sweet and smoked paprika in my spice drawer. Love them. Happy New Year to you! 🙂 ~Valentina
I made this last night for the husband and it was great! I went with two smaller fish and removed the heads. Presentation was a little less impressive, but this way they both fit in my cast iron. We like crispy skin so I browned them in avocado oil for about 2 minutes on each side before pouring the herb mixture over them and finishing in the oven! Served with wilted mixed greens - Delicious!
Hi Robin. Thanks so much for writing in. I'm so happy you loved this recipe. I'm sure the two smaller fish still made for a cool presentation. 🙂 Love that your browned the skin to make it crispy. Delicious! And thank you for checking out my site and recipes. Enjoy! 🙂 ~Valentina
I made this a few weeks ago and it is amazing. That’s why I’m making it again today! I’ve never had rockfish but my husband swears by it. It is absolutely the perfect whole fish to use. I’m going to try the Asian inspired flavors with the next one. Thank you for the recipe!
Hi Diana, Thank you so much for writing in. I'm so happy you love this recipe! The fish will definitely be incredibly delicious with Asian flavors. 🙂 ~Valentina
I just made this on 04/09/2023 @ 21:47 and they were awesome. I love Rockfish even more than Halibut thanks to Humpy's in Alaska. This was an Alaskan flashback for the whole family. Thank You Ma'am!!
Hi Scott, Thanks so much for writing in. This makes me so happy - made my day! 🙂 ~Valentina