2 branzini, porgy, or other whole fish (1½ lb. each), gutted and cleaned
1⁄4 cup plus 1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
1⁄4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 long hot chile or jalapeño, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
3 medium lemons, halved, plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1⁄2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 1⁄2 tsp. sweet paprika
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups corn, vegetable, or canola oil
YIELD 4 servings
Rub the fish all over with ¼ cup salt, massaging it into their skin and cavities. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.
Make the spice rub: In a small food processor, combine the parsley, garlic, chile, olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, pepper, cumin, salt, and paprika; pulse to a coarse paste. Set aside.
Make three ?-inch-deep cuts along the length of each fish side. Rub 1 tablespoon of spice rub on the outside of each fish.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Pour the flour onto a large rimmed plate. Dredge each fish in the flour to coat on all sides; pack a little into the cuts and cavities. Shake off any excess flour, then transfer the fish to the baking sheet.
Set a deep-fry thermometer in a large, heavy pot. Add the oil and heat to 350°F. Add one or both fish (as many as you can fit without crowding), and fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 4–6 minutes total. Do not move the fish until the underside is golden brown or the skin will stick to the pot.
Transfer the fish to a paper-towel-lined platter. Serve warm with the lemon halves over a bed of Freekeh Salad with Fennel and Chiles, if desired.