How to Grill Fish
Probably the quickest and easiest method for cooking fish, grilling imparts a hearty, smoky flavor and delicious blackened edges and striping to fillets and whole fish. It is best for thick (at least half-inch), meaty fillets or steaks with strong flavor that can stand up to the smoky tang of the grill. Swordfish, tuna, salmon, mackerel, and bluefish are ideal choices because their natural oils help keep their flesh moist; thin fillets dry up too quickly over the grill's intense heat. A whole grilled fish is just as easy to prepare as a fillet, and it makes a stunning presentation. Enjoying it will take just a little more navigation on the part of your guests to avoid the bones, but the flavor imparted by a fish roasted on the bone is worth every extra effort.
But what if the fish sticks and falls apart? What if it's over- or undercooked? Check out my recipes and techniques and you'll see there's nothing to be afraid of. I outline two virtually foolproof methods and give tips for getting the job done with minimum stress and maximum flavor.
You Can Do It! Tips for Success
Make sure you preheat the grill; put the fish on cold grates and it will stick for sure.
PLAY WITH FIRE
The grill's setup makes a difference. My grilled fish with citrus calls for indirect heat: Arrange the heat source (whether gas or charcoal) on one side of the grill and place the fish on the other side. Cook with the lid closed. For my crisp grilled fish, you want to use direct heat: Distribute the heat source (gas or charcoal) evenly across the center of the area where the fish will be placed, creating a uniform hot zone for quick cooking. Cook with the lid off.
PREP THE GRATES
Scrub the hot grill with a wire brush before cooking. Lightly oil the grill (the fish should get some oil too).
Don't move the fish too soon; wait until it forms a crust before turning. To test for doneness, check with a wooden skewer or the tip of a paring knife; the thickest part should flake, and the center should be just opaque.
Tips to Prevent Sticking
1. Fish with an abundance of natural oils are less likely to stick to the grill than non-oily fish, like red snapper and sea bass. Cook non-oily fish in a fish-shaped grilling basket, or lightly coat both fish and grill with oil before cooking.
2. Whole fish grilled with its scales on will not stick. The skin and scales can be easily removed after the fish has been cooked. (This method poses a problem only if you enjoy eating the skin.)
3. Make sure the grill is very clean and very hot. Placing a fish on a cool or even medium-hot grill will cause the skin to stick.
4. Make sure the fish is perfectly dry before grilling it. If the fish has been marinated, wipe the excess marinade off thoroughly with paper towels before cooking.
5. Wrapping the fish in aluminum foil will prevent it from sticking; but, it should be noted, it will also prevent it from absorbing any of the grill's flavor. Rather, it will taste as if it has been cooked en papillote.
Best Fish for Grilling
You want firm fish fillets or steaks, not delicate ones that will fall apart on the grill. Here are a few good choices, but you can ask for recommendations at your fish market. Making friends with the fishmonger is a great way to get quality seafood!
- Striped Bass