Thursday, May 11, 2006

Technique of the Week: How to Grill Fish

I just realized that there is one more day left before the Summer BBQ Challenge deadline from Lex Culinaria, so I couldn't help writing a post about grilled fish. Last year I wrote a detailed "How to grill fish" article on my pre-blog website. Although the pictures aren't great (that was before I picked up all these great tips from all you bloggers), the grilling instructions and tips are still the same, so I won't bother reproducing them all here. But I do have a bit of fish grilling philosophy to share with all you grill masters. A good piece of grilled fish is like a tight black dress -- simple, elegant, and easy to dress up or down. Whether I am dealing with clothes, home d├ęcor, or food, I am an accessories girl. I like to have a neutral base that I can mix and match with scarves, belts, pictures, vases, sauces, drizzles, and flavored butters.

Hmm, did I just use scarves and flavored butters in one sentence? But you know what I mean -- they are accessories and in order to make them work you need a base that is beautiful but neutral. That's why my favorite grilled fish recipes have only 3 other ingredients: salt, pepper, and olive oil. Glazes, marinade, and brines -- I've tried them all, and I must say that with 9 out of 10 fish, nothing beats salt, pepper, and olive oil. When grilling dense fish like swordfish and mahi, a good marinade is invaluable, but most other fish don't need much help on the grill. In fact, they'll stick more and won't develop as crispy of a skin unless you leave them alone.

Instead of looking for yet another glaze for salmon this summer, how about branching out to other fish. Try bluefish, striped bass, red snapper, or barramundi (that's the one in the picture). Just follow the basic grilling instructions, and have fun accessorizing!


Anonymous said...

Great posts! Love your story of coming around to your present place in cooking, how perfect! I've just been discovering how perfect s&p with olive on on fish and the grill can be. Our kitchen experienced a flood and is closed at the moment so the grill is wonderful. Talapia is so beautiful that way, crispy on the edges like you say! Great site, I'll return.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments, based on experience and science: Grapeseed, not rapeseed (canola) oil, seems to work best for me. Grapeseed oil has no taste, has the highest flash point of the cooking oils, is great for the grill. I live in the heart of catfish country (the Mississippi Delta), and I find using a grilling basket handy, due to the flakiness of some catfish. Also, you can use the new non-stick aluminum foil, put a little oil on the non-stick side for added "non-stickiness", then, after putting the foil on the grill, punch many tiny little holes in the foil to let the smoke get through. Works surprisingly well.

I have a barbecue competition team, and although most categories for competition involve pork and some beef, there is usually one "anything goes" category, and we have won twice with smoked-then-grilled salmon. Soak in milk for an hour or more, smoke over pecan/peach/pear/apple woods for a while (depending on the heat of the smoker), then finish by grilling til done.

More later...all this talk about food has gotten me hungry.

Helen said...

Hi W.L.,

Thanks for the grilling tips. The salmon sounds awesome. I'll have to give it a try in the summer.


Anonymous said...

Hey Helen,
I absolutely LOVE ur one of those guys that loves fish, but doesnt stray too far from the basic cos and that i know what to do with a nicer fish, im going to try some of this new stuff out today. you've converted me!

Barnaby said...

I agree it is hard to beat the basic flavor of grilled fish. I think a lot of people are intimidated by grilling fish since it is more delicate than steak or chicken and can easily be over cooked. If you MUST grill salmon, you might want to try out the "inside out" grilling technique described at

Of course, you can also use other fish with this technique.

Tony said...

Hi, I really like the information you have on grilling fish. It usually cooks so quickly and that's where most people mess up. Keep up the good work!

Isabel said...

I agree with your three ingredients when grilling fish. I would just add a forth one: garlic. Crush some garlic, mix with the other 3 ingredients, rub the fish with this mixture and grill. Simply delicious!

Find delicious salmon recipes at

Anonymous said...

I was searching around blogs when I came across this post. Excellent. Can't wait to experiment. I've always loved grilled fish, but it's not easy to get them here in Malaysia.