Tips and Recipes for Grilling Fish

Posted by  Sunday, August 03 2014 6:00 am
expert

Grilling is an ideal way to sear in juices and capture the distinctive flavor of each type of fish, including freshwater species such as catfish, salmon, trout, walleye and crappie, and saltwater varieties such as redfish, seatrout, mahi-mahi, shark and tuna. You also keep the kitchen cool, a big benefit on hot summer days. And best of all, perhaps, grilling is quick and easy. Learn a few tips and you can have a delectable meal of fresh grilled fish cooked and on the table in less than an hour.

GrillingFish09 001
Grilling is a healthy, delicious way to prepare fish like these pan-dressed trout.

You can cook fish on any type of grill from a small hibachi or brazier to a fancy gas grill or inexpensive charcoal cooker. You can even grill fish over a campfire.      

Grilling recipes often are interchangeable, too. A recipe calling for one type of fish is likely to work just as well with a similar type of fish. Mix, match and experiment to discover new flavor sensations.  

Preparation Keys  

There are certain keys to successful preparation, regardless of the type of fish or grill you use.  

First, use the freshest fish possible. Fresher fish stays firmer and isn't as likely to fall apart when you try to turn it or transfer it from grill to plate.  

Also, if you've never grilled fish before, you may want to start with firmer, oilier varieties such as salmon, tuna or redfish. Salmon, for example, is one of those succulent oily fish you can cook close to well done and still have a moist texture. The oil helps prevent sticking, too. Less oily varieties like crappie or seatrout tend to dry out quickly and may overcook unless you pay constant attention to them.

Different Ways for Different Cuts  

grilledfishYou can grill fillets, steaks, whole fish, or pan-dressed fish. The fish can be laid directly on the cooking grate after it has been oiled, or you can use a grilling basket that makes it easier to flip or move the fish. You won't get the same smoky flavor, but fish also can be cooked on a grill inside a packet of aluminum foil or parchment paper.  

Grilling fillets directly on the cooking grate sometimes can be troublesome because they tend to fall apart easily when they're close to being done. You shouldn't have much trouble, however, if you allow the pieces to cook on one side until the edges are flaky and opaque before flipping. Then turn the fillets gently and carefully using both a spatula and tongs.

When cooking fillets or steaks, always start with pieces that are evenly cut. If one part is much thicker than another, it will be hard getting the thick part cooked before the thin part dries out. If a piece of fish is uneven, consider cutting it in two. Put the thick half on first, and when it's about halfway done, put the thin half on. This way you will get the fish cooked to perfection without burning any.

Grilling a whole or pan-dressed fish is dramatic and thrifty. You get to deliver a beautiful, smoky grilled fish to the table, and you lose far less meat than you would had you filleted the fish beforehand. Scale the fish and gut it. For whole fish, remove the gills. For pan-dressed fish, remove the entire head.

You may want to score larger fish on both sides every two inches or so. This helps the whole fish cook evenly. If you don't do this, the thick part may be raw when the tail end is overcooked.  

Lay the fish on the grill with the tail facing farthest away from the heat. It will cook much faster than the head end, even with the slashes you made. Cook about 10 minutes per inch of thickness over steady, medium heat. This allows the center of the fish to get done without your dinner burning to a crisp on the outside. Gently flip the fish only once using two spatulas or a spatula and tongs.  

Wrapping fish in a foil packet before cooking on a grill keeps it from falling apart or sticking.

Before Grilling  

Always start the cooking process with a thoroughly clean grill. Be sure any cooked-on residue is scraped and burned off. You also need to oil the grate.

grilledsalmon
Wrapping fish in a foil packet before cooking on a grill keeps it from falling apart or sticking.

Do this by folding a paper towel into a small pad, dip it into vegetable oil, then rub it over the surface of the grill using tongs just before you put the fish on.  

The fish itself also should get a coating of oil, preferably something flavorful such as extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil or sesame oil. This helps prevent sticking and helps seasonings adhere to the fish. Season the fish generously with salt, but most other seasonings are best added after the fish has cooked so they don't burn on the grill and taste bitter when you eat the fish.  

Start with a hot grill. High heat creates a bit of crust on the outside of the fish and helps it to release from the grate. After the crust has formed, run a spatula under the fish and wiggle it around to break the initial stick. Then lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, flipping just once.  

Remember, if you cook with the lid of the grill closed, and you should, the fish will need to cook longer on the first side than the second. This is because the second side already begins cooking while the first side is on the grate. Most chefs use a 70-30 approach. The fish cooks 70 percent on the first side and 30 percent on the second. For example, if you have a total grilling time of 10 minutes, cook the first side seven minutes and the second side for three minutes.  

If you're uncertain whether the fish is done or not, test the thickest portion with a fork. The meat flakes easily and will appear opaque all the way through when it's ready. If any part of the meat is still glossy and partially translucent, then it's not done.

All you need now are a few recipes to get you started. Those that follow are delicious, and you can adapt them for any type of fish you have on hand. Creating your own great recipes is half the fun of grilling. The other half is the eating. Bon appetit!  

Grilled Lemon-Pepper Trout  

  • Any number of pan-dressed trout, about 1 lb. each
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Minced garlic
  • Lemon-pepper spice  


Rub the fish with olive oil, then sprinkle all over with garlic and lemon-pepper. Place on a hot grill and allow to cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Turn only once during cooking, but run a metal spatula under the fish every couple of minutes to be sure they don't stick.

Grilled Halibut Cheeks  

halibuts
Halibuts are among several large fish that have big pieces of delicious cheek meat. Grilled cheeks on skewers make a delicious meal.
  • 1 to 2 pounds halibut cheeks
  • 1 bottle Italian salad dressing  


Place the fish cheeks in a plastic bowl or zip-seal plastic bag. Pour Italian dressing over them and refrigerate 1 hour. Remove the cheek pieces from the dressing and drain. Skewer several pieces on bamboo or metal skewers until each skewer is full. Cook on a well-oiled grill surface, turning once, until the fish is opaque all the way through. Serves 4 to 8.
 

Redfish on the Half-Shell  

  • 4 redfish fillets, removed from fish with scaled side on
  • Melted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt Brush both sides of the fillets with melted butter. Place scaled-side down on grill. Season to taste with a mixture of the remaining ingredients. Do not turn. Cook until the meat flakes easily when fork-tested. Serves 4.  


Grilled Catfish with Tangy Orange Sauce  

  • 2 pounds catfish fillets

Sauce:  

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced  

 

fillet
One way to prevent fish from falling apart on the grill is to prepare it "on the half shell." Fillet the meat from the bones as you normally would, but leave the outer skin with the scales on. This is Redfish on the Half Shell.

Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl. Brush the catfish fillets with this mixture. Place fish on lightly oiled grill, about 4 inches above the coals. Grill for 5 minutes, brushing frequently with sauce. Turn and grill for 5 minutes longer or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serves 4 to 8.  

Quick Grilled Crappie  

  • 1 pound crappie fillets
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper spice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt  


Sprinkle a mixture of the other ingredients on the fillets after lightly coating them with olive oil. Cover and allow to sit in the refrigerator while you fire up the grill. Lightly coat the grill or cooking grates with olive or canola oil to help keep the fish from sticking. Then grill each side for about 2 minutes until the fish begins to flake easily with a fork. Serves 2 to 4.  

Striper with Crabmeat Stuffing  

  • 1 striped bass (about 4 pounds), prepared whole
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Crabmeat Stuffing (recipe below)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • 4 slices raw bacon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil  


Season fish, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Stuff loosely with Crabmeat Stuffing, close with skewers or toothpicks, and brush with melted butter. Place fish on a large sheet of foil. Cover with bacon slices, wrap and seal.  

Cook on a grill or on hot campfire coals until fish flakes when fork-tested, about 1 hour. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and lemon slices.  

Crabmeat Stuffing  

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch each thyme, basil, paprika and black pepper
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, well-beaten
  • 1 cup cooked crabmeat
  • Clam juice  


Saute onion in butter until soft. Stir in herbs and spices. Blend this mixture with bread crumbs, egg and crabmeat.  Moisten with clam juice.

 

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Last modified on Monday, September 08 2014 4:25 pm
Keith Sutton
expert

With a resume listing more than 3,500 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2011, Sutton, who has authored 12 books, was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Communicator.” Visit his website at www.catfishsutton.com.

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