Whole Baked Snapper + How to Carve it Like a Pro!

Having a whole baked fish presented to you on a plate is such a grand experience, with the fishes body shimmering before you, the succulent pan juices dripping on the plate and the tender meat falling off the bone. But how do you eat a whole baked fish- where do you begin? Do you start hacking at it with your knife and fork or approach it like a medical procedure, gently removing bones and tissue?

I first came across this dilemma in Viet Nam several years ago when I ordered a whole baked fish. I took my fork and plowed into the fish, but immediately hit bone. Luckily the waiter came to my rescue and dissected the fish for me.

This post will show you how to successfully carve a whole baked fish (and not die trying!) This is especially useful if you are serving a large fish suitable for several people, and you need to divide the fish up in a tidy manner without encountering any bones.

But first let’s talk about why some of us lust over whole baked fish. The answer is easy- by cooking the fish in its bones, the flesh becomes nice and tender and the pan juices oozing from the fish are wonderful!

Whole Baked Snapper Recipe

The recipe for my Baked Snapper is easy- you simply place some coriander, lemon slices and kaffir lime leaves in the cavity of the fish. Then you make three diagonal cuts on both sides of the fish and rub a chili, garlic and lemon mixture into the skin. After you sprinkle some salt and olive oil onto the fish, it’s baked in the oven for about 20-30 minutes. And then the fun starts of carving and eating the fish!

If you want to skip the part on how to carve a whole baked fish, then please flip to the bottom of the page to view the recipe. And by the way, if you haven’t already done so, please do ‘like’ my G’day Souffle’ Facebook page- it would really make my day! 

How to Carve a Whole Baked Fish

Step 1: Make an incision with your knife along the head and along the tail to release the flesh.

Carve Snapper 1

Step 2: Peel back the skin, then make an incision down the middle of the fish

Step 3: Using the edge of your knife, scrape the small ‘pin bones’ away from the top edge of the fish.

Step 4: Repeat on the bottom part of the fish: scrape the small ‘pin bones’ away from the bottom edge of the fish. Then, using the edge of your knife, gradually scrape the top half of the fillet off the bone.

Scrape the small pin bones away from bottom edge of fish

Carve Snapper (15 of 15) (1 of 1)

Gradually scrape the top half of the fillet off the bone

Step 5: Continue to slide the fillet off to the side of the fish, then transfer onto a serving dish.

Step 6: Repeat with the bottom half of the fish: scrape the fillet off the bone and to the side of the fish.

Step 7: Then transfer to the serving dish, along side the other piece of fish. Important: for each step, please test for any remaining pin bones and remove them along the way.

Step 8: You’re not done yet! You still have to deal with the bottom half of the fish. But you’re almost finished. The fish skeleton is now easily visible- simply grab the tail end and lift the skeleton off the fish.

Step 9: Divide the remaining fish into two fillets and then transfer onto a serving dish. You can either add them onto the same dish as the other two fillets, or place them onto a new dish.

To finish: add the pan juices, coriander and lemon slices onto the serving plate with the fish and serve.

Whole Baked Snapper
Whole Baked Snapper with a slightly spicy lemon chili rub. You'll love the juicy pan drippings and tender flaky meat!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
  1. Kaffir lime leaves and several lemon slices
  2. Coriander sprigs
  3. 2 tbsp sweet chili sauce
  4. ¼ preserved lemon , diced
  5. 2 garlic cloves, crushed and diced
  6. 1/2 lemon, juiced
  7. 1 whole Snapper, gutted and cleaned
  8. Drizzle of olive oil
  9. Salt
For the garnish
  1. Coriander, chopped
  2. Lemon slices
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Make sure all scales are removed from your fish.
  2. Place some Kaffir lime leaves, coriander sprigs and several lemon slices in the inside of the fish cavity.
  3. Mix the chili sauce, preserved lemon, garlic and the lemon juice in a small bowl. Score the skin of the Snapper on both sides using a sharp knife (3 cuts on the diagonal on each side) and then spread the chili mixture all over, working it into the score marks.
  4. Drizzle olive oil generously on both sides of the fish and then season with salt. You can bake the fish immediately, or let it marinate for up to 20 minutes.
  5. Place the fish on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the flesh is cooked and the skin is rather crispy.
  6. To serve, carefully remove the flesh from the top part of the fillet, removing any pin bones. After the top half of the fish flesh has been removed, it is very easy to then lift off the skeleton of the fish to reveal the bottom half of the fish. Remove all pin bones. Sprinkle with some chopped coriander and drizzle with a bit more lemon juice.
  7. Serve the fish pieces on a plate and top with the pan juices and lemon slices.
G'day Soufflé

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  • Reply
    Joanne T Ferguson
    June 4, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Great post Fran! While I have deboned fish before, is not my fave thing to do!
    Thanks for sharing and am a visual person, go really enjoyed your post today!

  • Reply
    John/Kitchen Riffs
    June 5, 2016 at 5:05 am

    Excellent post! I know very few people who are good at carving a whole fish. I certainly am not! Yet a whole fish tastes so much better than filets or steaks or whatever. I need to do this more — excellent inspiration. And a darn fine recipe, too. 🙂
    John/Kitchen Riffs recently posted…The White Lady CocktailMy Profile

  • Reply
    Karen (Back Road Journal)
    June 6, 2016 at 12:27 am

    I’m sure your snapper was delicious…it is one of my favorite fish and yours was perfectly seasoned. A good tutorial on what to do with a whole fish once it is cooked. When it comes to a whole fish, I usually let the waiter or my husband take it off the bone for me. 😀
    Karen (Back Road Journal) recently posted…A Blogger’s AnniversaryMy Profile

  • Reply
    Kim | Low Carb Maven
    June 6, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Fran, this looks so good! I’ve never cooked a whole fish, just filleted it raw for cooking (did I say that right?).I love the Thai flavors going on here – just beautiful!

  • Reply
    June 8, 2016 at 6:31 am

    Fran, carving fish is an art…and you sure have it done perfectly…I don’t think I would even dare to try…the fish looks so tasty…awesome flavors.
    Have a great week 🙂

  • Reply
    Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop
    June 9, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for this great tutorial!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Thanks for the visual tutorial on fish carving – this removes some of the how-to mystery. The seasonings sound quite tasty!

  • Reply
    Lynn @ Oh-So Yummy
    June 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Great tutorial ! I might actually try cooking a whole fish now! Or maybe the mother-in-law will make some kind of fish soon and I can experiment with deboning on hers! =P
    Lynn @ Oh-So Yummy recently posted…Reader Tacotopia 2016 – Recap + Spicy Loves Milk campaignMy Profile

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