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Whole roasted John Dory with thyme

Tue, 1 November, 2022

Dinner with a name – that’s John Dory roasted with tomato and red pepper slices, and lots of fragrant thyme.

whole roasted john dory with thyme

'Alice—Mutton: Mutton—Alice.'

According to the Red Queen, it’s rude to eat anyone you’ve been introduced to. So considering that introduction usually involves learning someone’s name, what ever should we do about eating John Dory?

Surely it must be the most dignified of fishes: it has both first and last name!

I can think of no other foodstuff that would boast own surname. There are of course steaks called Aberdeen Angus and chops named Gloucester Old Spot but we don’t refer to them by name when having them for dinner (haha! see what I’ve done there?).

The French can eat John Dory with impunity. They don't call it by its name but 'St Pierre', which would appear to elevate the fish even more, being called after a saint, were it not for the fact that it’s short for ‘St Pierre’s fish’ rather than the fishermen’s patron saint himself. The mark on the fish skin is St Peter’s thumbprint, according to the tradition.

john dory

Where does John Dory’s name come from?

Why then have the English christened the fish with the full moniker, instead of calling it simply St Peter’s fish? It turns out that dumb English mispronounced the French description of the fish when freshly caught: ‘jaune doré’, golden yellow. So much for John Dory, Esq.

John Dory is caught in North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In the UK the supplies usually come from Cornwall. It is rather a mystery why it is so expensive, also with unknown sustainability.

Either way, we should avoid small fishes which get tangled into nets as a by-catch, before they had a chance to spawn.

A truly ugly customer, is old John. Also, not very good value because it’s predominantly a head. But the taste compensates for both the aesthetics and the price. It’s just a shame it turns up so seldom on my market fish stall.

oven roasted john dory with peppers and tomatoes

How to cook it?

I always think it is much more economical to cook a fish whole than have it filleted – we’re not talking salmon or tuna here of course.

Especially with expensive fish like turbot, brill or John here, it is both easy and frugal to roast it whole, then share it; even if the filleting of the cooked fish is not going to end with the neatest portions.

Hot tip: the top fillet usually ends up super messy, so keep that to yourself and offer the bottom intact one to your co-diner. Unless you’re a selfish pig which I completely understand.

one pan roasted john dory

One pan fish dinner

The idea of one pan fish-and-side is truly brilliant. Nesting the fish on top of the vegetables that will cook at the same time as the centrepiece (perhaps not carrots or potatoes though, unless parboiled) saves time and effort.

Plus, it looks pretty which is a rare thing to be able to say about whole fish. Especially uncle John.

Make sure you trim the spiky fins from the sides of the fish, and be careful while you do it – they really are deadly.

Prepare a bed of thinly sliced red peppers and large tomatoes, add thyme sprigs generously and sit the fish on top. Season everything with salt, pepper and olive oil.

how to cook john dory

A large-ish John Dory, weighing about 800g (2 pound) will serve two people and cooks in about 25-30 minutes.

You can check if it flakes easily, which is the sign of readiness, by prodding a knife into a side. Don’t worry that it will break the flesh – that top fillet is for the cook, remember? It needn’t be showy.

Flat fish MUST be served with caper butter, I always insist on it, otherwise it might taste a little bland. Melt the butter while John cooks and add a generous teaspoon of drained capers when it’s foaming, plus a squeeze of lemon.

And the final hot (literally) tip: dish it out on warmed plates, since the fish will lose some heat whilst being filleted.

baked john dory with vegetables

Other types of fish

This recipe is a template for all kinds of fish that you want to roast whole and share.

It also works when cooking two or more individual fish, one per portion, in which case keep the cooking time on the side of 20-25 minutes rather than longer.

Types of fish that can be used in this recipe: turbot, brill, dover sole, lemon sole, sea bream, sea bass and whole plaice.

seasoned john dory

More whole fish recipes

A challenging yet super rewarding recipe: whole sea bream baked in a salt crust. Fish baked in a salt crust is absolutely delicious, succulent and not at all salty.

Grilled whole mackerel with spice crust: it’s healthy, it’s cheap and it takes fifteen minutes to prepare. With a squeeze of lemon and a simple salad, it’s an easy and delightful dish.

Whole steamed fish, Asian style: sea bass steamed in a wok with ginger and soy sauce. Fantastic flavour and an easy job of steaming fish in a wok - just sit a large plate or platter inside it.

john dory fillet with peppers and tomatoes

whole roasted John Dory with thyme

Servings: 2Time: 40 minutes


  • 1 large John Dory, about 700-800g (2 pounds)
  • salt
  • 1 tsp za’atar
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • ½ bunch of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp capers, drained
  • lemon, for garnish


1. Rinse the John Dory and pat it dry. Trim the spiky fins at both ends. Season generously with salt on both sides and sprinkle with za’atar. Make sure the fish is brought to room temperature when you’re ready to cook it.

2. Preheat the oven to 210C fan/425F/gas 7.

3. Core and thinly slice the pepper, core and slice the tomatoes.

4. Brush a shallow roasting dish with oil and spread the pepper and tomato slices over the bottom. Sprinkle them with salt and scatter half the fresh thyme sprigs.

5. Place the fish on top and scatter with more thyme; place some sprigs in the cavity as well. Drizzle with olive oil and slip into the oven. Roast for 25 -30 minutes until it flakes easily when prodded with a fork from the side.

6. While the fish is roasting, melt the butter in a small skillet. Spoon some of it over the fish halfway through the roasting. Add the capers to the remaining butter and keep warm.

7. To serve, slide a palette knife or a fish slice through the side to separate the fillets and lift the top one with 2 forks. If you’re very lucky, the top fillet will come off the bone in one piece. Remove the bone and head and transfer the bottom fillet to the other serving plate. Spoon the caper butter over the fish and the tomatoes and peppers next to it.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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