Jack Paster, January 2012
When grilling fish “steaks” (e.g. swordfish, salmon, halibut, Wahoo, cobia, etc.) of uniform thickness and firmness, it is OK to cook them directly on the grill grates so long as they are prepared with cooking oil/spray. (PAM “grilling” Spray is effective) Grill should be pre-heated to “medium-high” setting before placing the fish steaks on the grates. If fish steaks seem to be browning too fast, turn down to the “medium” setting until they are cooked to preference. The steaks should be turned only once using a generously sized spatula.
When grilling fish “fillets” (e.g. grouper, larger snapper, salmon, etc.) of uneven thickness, it is better to use a wire fish basket having three height settings. Since the basket will sit on top of the heated grill grates, you can use the “high” or “medium-high” temp settings. One of the advantages of using a fish basket is that you can easily fold the thinner part of the fillet over in an attempt to gain uniform thickness and doneness.
A second advantage is that you can “nest” the fillets on one wire surface of the basket and position the height setting of the other variable surface to fish thickness. The fish will stay in place within the basket as you are grilling on one side and turning it over to complete the cooking process. A final advantage is that the fillets hold together better than if they were applied directly to the grill grate. No spatula is needed with a fish basket, and grill clean up is easier.
Grilling is typically not recommended for thin or “flaky” fish fillets (e.g. yellow-tailed snapper, cod, pompano, flounder, etc.). Generally, these fillets are sautéed, steamed or oven baked with various preparation techniques.
Grilling time and fish doneness are variables to be mastered by the cook. The thickness and size of the steaks or the fillets, along with the grill temperature setting, determines grill time. Also, the preference of the diner must be considered. Some folks like the served fish to be slightly opaque, highly moist and – perhaps- not quite fully cooked. Other folks would be revolted by that same serving. “Ya gotta know the customer preferences, and ya gotta deliver the goods to the customers’ wishes.”
One constant rule: Do not over-cook fish.
PREPARING AND SERVING SUGGESTIONS:
For preparing either fish steaks or fillets for grilling, keep it simple. Apply canola or some other high-temp tolerant oil liberally to both sides of the fish to be cooked, then salt and pepper both sides to preference. Olive oil is not recommended.
During grilling of fish steaks, you may wish to baste the steaks. A simple basting mixture of half melted butter and half lemon juice works well when cooking firm fish species such as swordfish steaks. No basting is necessary on more oily fish such as salmon.
Dozens of bottled sauces are available for marinating and basting fish; but they are not needed. They are only mildly effective in flavoring the fish during the preparation and grilling phases. Besides, these sauces tend to make a mess of your grill grates, burners and under-carriage.
Sauces applied “after” the fish is grilled and plated can have grand results. Two bottled sauces can be effectively used with mild-tasting grilled fish such as grouper. Fischer & Wieser offer a “Mango Ginger Habanero” sauce, and Earth & Vine markets a “Mango Tequila Jalapeno” sauce. Despite the hot pepper ingredients, neither is spicy enough to turn off sensitive palates. Simply warm these sauces in a bowl in the microwave oven, then spoon the sauce over the plated fish. Serve plated fish with rice pilaf, green beans or asparagus, and mango salsa for a delicious and eye-pleasing entrée.
For grilled swordfish, salmon or grouper, try the outstanding sauce recipe given below. (Serves 4 people)
- 2 or 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
- Half teaspoon of salt
- Half teaspoon of ground pepper
- 4 medium tomatoes (2 coarsely chopped, 2 thinly sliced
- 4 swordfish steaks (cut about three-quarters of an inch thick, and about 2 lbs. or more in total weight)
Before the steaks or fillets are to be grilled, stir together the mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, and chopped tomatoes in a small bowl. Let it stand at room temp. (Do not refrigerate the mixture). Grill fish (see above grilling instructions). Arrange two tomatoes slices on each plate (slightly over-lapping), set grilled fish on top of sliced tomatoes, and spoon sauce mixture generously over fish. Serve immediately with choice of green veggies and rice or risotto for a fine presentation.