Pesce al Forno (Italian-Style Whole Roasted Fish in Herbs) Recipe

A whole roast fish with rosemary and herbs
Philippe Desnerck/Getty Images
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
722 Calories
17g Fat
16g Carbs
133g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 722
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 22%
Saturated Fat 5g 26%
Cholesterol 285mg 95%
Sodium 429mg 19%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 133g
Vitamin C 91mg 455%
Calcium 133mg 10%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 2164mg 46%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Roasting a whole fish is a procedure more than a recipe, and will work well with any sort of fish that takes well to being roasted.

Fish availability changes remarkably from place to place; in the Italian seas the fish most prized for roasting are branzini, orate, saraghi, spigole, dentice, and cefali -- According to Alan Davidson's Mediterranean Seafood (Penguin Books), these are sea bass, gilt-head bream, dentex, two-banded bream, and gray mullet.

Because of bones, skin, and such, you should figure about one pound of fish per diner. Have your fishmonger clean and scale the fish for you.
When you get home, wash the fish well, inside and out, and pat it dry. 

If you are wondering about how to pair your roasted fish with wine, there are those who like a red with this sort of fish, but I continue to prefer white. If the fish is flavorful, a Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai, or Chardonnay from Friuli will be nice, and will a Trebbiano from the Abruzzo. If it's more delicate, I might go with a Vermentino from Tuscany or Liguria.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge]


  • 1 whole fish, about 1 pound (500 g) per person

  • Salt, to taste

  • Fresh herbs, such as sprigs of fresh thyme, sprigs of fresh rosemary, fresh parsley, or non-traditional Italian herbs or spices

  • Lemon wedges

  • Garlic, sliced

  • Olive oil

Steps to Make It

Preheat your oven to 420 F (210 C).

  1. Salt the cavity of the fish and slip a little of the herb mixture you've settled on into it (say, a sprig of rosemary and a small wedge of lemon).

  2. Rub the fish with olive oil and salt them, then lay them in a roasting pan large enough for them to lie flat, and not touching. If you are using rosemary slip a sprig under each fish, then lay another on top, together with several thin slices of lemon and some garlic, if you're using it.

  3. Sprinkle well with oil, note how thick the fish are at their thickest point, and put them into the oven. Roast for about 10 minutes per inch (2.5 cm) of thickness; the fish will be done when the eyes are completely white and the flesh near the backbone is no longer translucent but flakes easily when prodded with a toothpick. You will probably want to turn the fish (gently) once about half-way through the roasting time.