Thursday, May 10, 2012

How to Grill Fish (Video)

I showed up at Captain Marden's bright and early this Monday morning to buy fish for the grilling video.  I was looking for a challenge, but a relatively safe one.  I was hoping for striped bass.  If you don't know what you are doing with fish on the grill, all hell can break loose with striped bass.  It can curl up, it can stick, it can fall through the grates, it can refuse to take on good grill marks by the time it's done.  But if you know your stuff, it's a piece of cake.  I wasn't too worried when I didn't see striper on the fish counter.  "Maybe they just didn't unload the truck yet," I thought.  My fishmonger went in the back to look for it.  He came back shaking his head.  No.  "Bluefish?"  I asked hopefully.  He shook his head.  "Not today."  I carefully surveyed the fish counter.  Flounder, sole, cod, haddock, and sable were impossible to grill -- they would fall apart.  Salmon, char, and trout wouldn't curl up, and wouldn't make a good demo of the skin scoring technique.  Swordfish, tuna and halibut steaks were too easy -- who needs a demo of grilled fish if it behaves like a pork chop.  That left me with red snapper.  It was definitely a challenge.  It had the same curling issue as striped bass.  But on top of that, it was thinner and flakier.  I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.

YouTube link: How to Grill Fish

I wish I could take credit for all the brilliant tips in this video (super heating the grill, oiling it 5 times, and grilling skin side up first).  But that wouldn't be fair (as my 4 year old says).  I picked up many of these tips at Cook's Illustrated whose magazine I've been reading cover to cover for the past 10 years.  Here are more details not covered in the video.

Why and How of Marinades
I am anti-marinades with most cooking methods, but on the grill they do serve a purpose (as long as they are made wisely).  They can help the fish brown, and they fuse with the fish during cooking giving it a more complex flavor.  A successful marinade has 3 basic component:
  • Oil (lots of it) -- Oil helps the fish brown and prevents it from sticking.  Oils I like to use in marinades are olive, safflower, and grape seed.
  • Sweet ingredient (tiny bit) -- Sugar speeds up browning, which is invaluable for thin fish.  Sweet ingredients I like to use are soy sauce (I like Tamari), and pomegranate molasses (it's very reduced pomegranate juice; you can buy it at Whole Foods).
  • Emulsifier (tiny bit) -- They help the wet ingredients stay suspended in oil.  I like to use Dijon mustard and garlic mashed to a paste.  Both are also huge flavor boosters.  Minced garlic doesn't work as emulsifier and tends to burn on the grill, so make sure you turn it into a paste before adding.
Once you got the basics, you can add pretty much any herbs and spices, but remember that less is more.  

Can you grill this fish?
Even if your grilling technique is flawless, some fish should not be grilled (at least not in fillet form).  
  • Don't grill: flounder, sole, hake, haddock, cod, pollock, fluke, sable (also known as black cod or butterfish), and other exceptionally flaky and fragile fish that are usually sold without skin.  
  • Only grill with skin: salmon, arctic char, trout, bluefish, red snapper, black bass, striped bass and other delicate fish.
  • Grill with or without skin (easy ones):  mahi-mahi, grouper, swordfish, halibut, tuna, monkfish
Start checking for doneness at 6 minutes per inch of thickness.  As soon as your fish is brown on both sides, turn down the heat to prevent drying it out.  If you think you only need another minute or two, turn the heat completely off.  The grill will retain enough heat to finish cooking your fish.  Even if you turned the grill off, you need to get your fish on a plate when the center is still translucent.  Keep in mind that salmon tastes best still translucent in the center (even after the rest) and tuna tastes best completely raw inside.  Here is the fish doneness video for more detail.  

35 down / 15 more to go


Suzanne said...

Catfish? Yes or no? It seems like a fragile fish to me, but I've never been good at sussing these things out.

Helen said...

we don't have much catfish around here, so I've never grilled it, but my instinct says "don't grill." It's moderately firm, but usually thin and sold without skin. But, there is no harm in trying. It will definitely not be a disaster of the grilled flounder magnitude :) Give it a shot and report back!