Instead of grilling beef and chicken this summer, consider grilling fish as a healthy alternative. Some cooks are hesitant to grill fish for fear of it sticking and/or falling apart. Yes, it's annoying to watch a nicely cooked piece of fish break apart and fall through the grates of the grill. However, with a few key tips in mind, grilling fish can be as simple and successful as grilling meats.
One essential step to grilling fish is a clean grill, i.e., as little pre-grilling buildup as possible. Fish may stick to char but will not stick to clean, hot metal. Brush the grill with a little oil and always grill fish with the skin side down, as the skin adds a layer of protection. The fish skin can be eaten or peeled off, whichever you'd prefer. Firm-flesh fish with high oil content, e.g., salmon are the best choices. The oil keeps the meat moist and holds it together.
Another important tip is to know when to grill the fish directly on the grill or indirectly, using a layer of foil, a grilling basket, a wood plank for added flavor or even non-toxic wraps like banana leaves. Generally speaking, delicate fillets and thin cuts of fish are safer grilled in a basket; thicker cuts and whole fish are wonderful cooked directly on the grill.
When fish is fully cooked, its meat will flake easily with a fork and it will appear opaque throughout. If any part of the fish meat is glossy and partially translucent, then it's not done. Here's where a large-sized, thin spatula comes in handy. Ideally, you'll want a spatula large enough to support and turn the whole piece of fish. You should only handle the fish twice - once to flip it to other side (when the upside of the fish turns opaque) and again to remove it from the grill (once the opaqueness has reached the center of the fish).
Finally, grill the fish very hot and fast. Make sure the grill is hot before you place the fish on it. When the fish and grill heat up together, they can form a bond that can be hard to break. Arrange the fish on the grill and cook the fish only as long as needed to cook it through. With whole fish you may need to cut into the center to be sure the thickest section has cooked completely. Grilled fish tastes best when served hot and immediately.
Whether whole or as fillets, trout is an ideal fish for the grill. When buying trout, select fish that is just the right size for the plate, about 6-8 inches long. When it comes to trout fillets, get them a little bigger so they hold together better but choose pieces with consistent thickness so they grill evenly. Grilled whole, you can stuff a trout with various flavors - garlic, lemon slices, scallions - or any herbs that strike your fancy. Stuffing not only adds to the flavor but makes space between the fish sides to let more heat get in. On the other hand, trout has such a delightful flavor on its own that you don't really need to add anything before grilling it. A whole trout should take 12-20 minutes depending on size and amount of stuffing; trout fillets should be ready in 10 minutes or less. Other good grilling fish include catfish, bass, snapper and, of course, seafood like shrimp and scallops.
So, try something fishy on the grill this summer. To jumpstart your efforts, here are a few recipes to try. Within minutes, something fishy will turn into something healthy and delicious!
Jacqui Love Marshall lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grilled Trout with Fresh Corn Sauce (serves 2)
1 large whole trout (12 oz), butterflied, with backbone, bones and head removed
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp whole tarragon leaves
1-1/4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2-3 ears)
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp whipping cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided in half
1/4 tsp pepper, divided in half
1. Over medium-high heat, cook corn and butter in a medium frying pan (nonstick), stirring often, until corn begins to turn brown. Spoon 1/3 cup into a saucepan; set aside frying pan with remaining corn.
2. Add broth to saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender, then rub through a fine strainer into a microwave-safe bowl, discarding any hulls. Stir in cream and season with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Set aside.
3. Open up trout and season on both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Place the fish on a hot grill, one skin side down, about 6-8 minutes. Turn the fish to other side and continue cooking until the flesh is no longer pink, 3-6 more minutes.
4. While the trout is grilling, re-warm the corn in frying pan over medium-high heat and stir in the chopped tarragon. Microwave the corn sauce to re-warm.
5. Cut trout in half. Spoon sauce onto two plates and place trout half on each. Mound corn on top of fish and scatter with tarragon leaves. Serve immediately; season with more salt and pepper to taste.
Soy-Glazed Snapper (serves 4)
3 lb whole snapper
1 bunch cilantro
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Oil for brushing
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 cup sesame oil
Black bean sauce to taste (optional)
1. To make the glaze: Combine the soy sauce, sake, honey, ginger, garlic, mustard and sesame oil in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer until reduced to a thick glaze. If using, stir in the black bean sauce.
2. Heat the grill to medium-hot. Baste the inside of the fish with some of the soy glaze; reserve the extra glaze. Layer the cilantro, garlic, and ginger in the belly cavity of the fish; season with salt and pepper.
3. Wrap 3 or 4 pieces of butcher's twine around the fish; knot each piece tightly and trim any excess twine. Brush the outside of the fish with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Cook on a medium-hot grill, turning once, until cooked through, about 10 minutes per side. Liberally baste the grilled fish with the reserved soy glaze before serving.
Caribbean Grilled Shrimp (serves 2-4)
1/2 cup lime juice
4 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp turmeric
2 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp allspice berries
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, chopped and quartered into 1/2-inch thick slices
2 red onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 lb shrimp, peeled
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1. Soak the skewers in cool water for 30 minutes. In a blender, blend lime juice, garlic, turmeric, paprika, allspice berries, oregano, salt and peppercorns until smooth.
2. With the blender running, add the olive oil in a steady stream to create an emulsion.
3. Assemble the skewers, alternating shrimp (3), pineapple wedges (3) and onion pieces (2). Transfer skewers to a shallow pan.
4. Add three sprigs of fresh oregano to the pan of skewers once assembled. Pour the herbal paste over the skewers evenly and marinate for 1-3 hours in refrigerator.
5. Prepare a charcoal grill to high heat. Place the skewers on the grill and cook about 3-4 minutes a side. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.