How to Grill Fish
This post is an excerpt from BBQ USA.
When it comes to bringing out the flavor of seafood, nothing beats the grill. But fish has a nasty tendency to stick to the bars of the grate. It has an equally frustrating habit of going from undercooked to overcooked in a matter of seconds. All too often seafood comes off the grill burned on the outside and raw in the center. No wonder so many people are intimidated by grilling it.
Well, take heart, because grilling fish isn’t difficult at all. The secret is to choose the most appropriate fish, use the right accessories, and above all, remember the cardinal rules of master grilling.
What Kind of Fish
Almost any kind and cut of fish can be grilled, from sardines to swordfish, from whole fish to fillets. Steak fish, such as swordfish, tuna, and salmon, are the easiest to grill. Their dense consistency (and, in the case of salmon, high oil content) helps keep them from sticking to the grate and falling apart when you turn them. The most challenging fish to grill are soft fillets, like those of flounder, sole, and bluefish. But, with a little skill and ingenuity, even these can be grilled successfully.
Whole fish, particularly small ones—snapper and trout, for example—are easy to grill if you use the right techniques. To begin with, make a series of parallel slashes all the way to the bone in each, about an inch apart. This lets the heat penetrate to the thickest part of the flesh, ensuring even cooking.
Invest in a Fish Basket
You can buy hinged wire baskets that are designed to hold a fish while exposing the maximum surface area to the fire. To turn the fish you turn the basket. The fish won’t stick to the grate, and it doesn’t fall apart. Just don’t forget to oil the basket (I do this with spray oil). Fish baskets are available for both whole fish or steaks or fillets; look for them at grill shops.
Or a Fish Graate
Another useful accessory is the fish grate — a wire or perforated metal plate you place on top of the grill grate. The idea behind a fish grate is that it’s smoother and flatter than a conventional grill grate, which makes it a snap to slide a spatula under fish to turn it. The key to using a fish grate is to preheat it on the grill and oil it well before you put on the fish. Fish grates are also available at grill shops.
The Grill Meister’s Mantra
The ultimate test of a grill meister’s mettle is to grill fish directly on the grill grate. And to do this, you need to keep three things in mind:
Keep it Hot
Starting with a hot grill is paramount. The surface sears quickly when the grill is hot, so the fish is less likely to stick. If your fish sticks, chances are you’re not cooking on a hot enough enough, grill grate. When the grill is hot enough you shouldn’t be able to hold your hand three inches above the grate for longer than two to three seconds.
Keep it Clean
Scrub the bars of the grate with a longhandled stiff wire grill brush. This indispensable tool is available at any grill shop or hardware store. In a pinch, you can use a piece of crumpled aluminum foil (hold it with your tongs). The important thing is to scrub the bars of the grate to remove any debris to which the fish could stick.
Keep it Lubricated
Dip a tightly folded paper towel in vegetable oil and, holding it with long-handled tongs, rub it over the bars of the grate. This prevents sticking, of course, and it also helps give you those killer grill marks that are the signature of master grillsmanship.
As a further precaution against sticking, if the recipe doesn’t already call for it, lightly oil fillets before grilling them by squirting a little oil in a metal pan and rolling the fish in it to coat both sides. The operational word here is lightly—you don’t want to over oil the fish or the dripping oil will cause flare-ups. Another way to lubricate the fish is to brush it with a little oil on both sides, using a basting brush.
The grill grate: Keep it hot; keep it clean keep it lubricated.
Two Last Tricks
As you place a fillet on the grill, gently slide it forward a half inch or so to keep it from sticking. And when it comes time to turn the fish, flip it onto a section of the grate that has been brushed and oiled but has not yet had a piece of fish on top of it.
Grilling fish is really not difficult. If you practice these techniques, you can grill any kind without it sticking.