Vietnamese Grilled Whole Fish (Cá Nướng)

  • Preparation: 30 mins
  • Cooking: 30 mins
  • Skill level: Medium
  • Servings: 4

Description Vietnamese Grilled Whole Fish (Cá Nướng)

The goal here is a crisp-skinned fish that is imbued with smoke from the grill and whose flesh is gently perfumed by the herbs and citrus in the cavity. Fish is notoriously tricky to grill because its skin tends to stick to the grate. To avoid this, I cook the fish on a cast-iron griddle or frying pan set on the grate. The fish still picks up some flavor from the fire, but it doesn’t fall apart during cooking. Let the pan get hot before you add the fish, and flip the fish only once, after the first side is a deep golden brown. Resist the urge to fiddle with the fish or you’ll destroy the delicate flesh and crisp skin. I like branzino, but Vietnamese Grilled Whole Fish (Cá Nướng) will work with any small whole fish.


  • 1 (1½- to 2-pound) whole branzino, cleaned with head and tail intact
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 by 1-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin coins
  • 2 large Thai basil sprigs
  • 2 large cilantro sprigs
  • 3 thin lemon slices
  • 3 thin lime slices
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil Dipping Sauce
  • 2½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons Fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon minced Thai chile

Method Vietnamese Grilled Whole Fish (Cá Nướng)

1, Prepare a hot fire for direct-heat grilling in a charcoal grill (you should be able to hold you hand 1 to 2 inches above the grate for only 2 to 3 seconds). When the coals are ready, place a cast-iron griddle or large cast-iron frying pan on the grill grate and let it preheat until very hot.
2, While the fire is reaching temperature, rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper, then stuff the cavity with the ginger, basil, cilantro, and lemon and lime slices. Drizzle the oil on both sides of the fish and set aside.
3, To make the sauce, in a small bowl, stir together the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and Thai chile until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
4, When the griddle or pan is very hot, add the fish and cook it without moving it for about 6 minutes until the skin is a deep golden brown and is no longer sticking to the griddle. To check, gently try to lift the fish; if it does not release easily, continue to cook until it does.
5, With a large, wide spatula centered at the middle of the fish, flip the fish and cook on the second side until golden brown. After 1 minute, begin checking to see if the fish is done. Insert the tip of a knife into the fish and wiggle it gently; the flesh should be barely clinging to the bone. If you feel resistance, continue cooking, repeating the test until the flesh offers no resistance.
6, Transfer the fish to a platter and serve immediately. Accompany with the dipping sauce.

Chef's Note

This Vietnamese Recipe is adapted from the book Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. Copyright © 2012 by Charles Phan

Related tags