Go with fish: Reel in a meal by tackling your fear of grilling

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)July 11, 2013 


Grilling seafood can be intimidating but with a few tricks and a little trial and error great results can be had. A grilled salmon and summer salad dish is served at 18 Seaboard in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)


Grilling fish and seafood can be intimidating.

Many of us either overcook or undercook the fish or can't pry it off the grill in one piece.

So we reached out to a handful of experts for advice. All have their own techniques, and trial and error will determine the best approach. Here are a few key tips they agree on: The grill must be clean. Preheat the grill and then scrub off any food particles.

The grill should be oiled. Dip a folded square of paper towel into cooking oil. Use tongs to rub the oiled paper towel along the grill grates. Do not spray cooking oil, such as Pam, on the grill when it's heating. It will cause flames to flare.

Also oil the fish or shellfish, which will help prevent it from sticking.

Once the seafood or fish is placed on the grill, said Gene Briggs, chef and partner of two restaurants in Charlotte, N.C., "Don't touch it." Our instinct is to fuss with it, to move it, to feel as if we're cooking. And don't panic. Fish will initially stick but will release once a crust develops. If you move the fish, the grate cools down and that process starts over again, increasing the likelihood that the fillet will fall apart.

Katherine Alford, vice president of the test kitchen at Food Network Magazine, suggests starting with shrimp and scallop kebabs, then graduating to fish steaks, such as swordfish or tuna, and then trying foil packets for delicate fish. Cook the seafood 75 percent of the way on one side, and then flip it to finish cooking the remaining 25 percent.

Barton Seaver, chef and author of "Where There's Smoke," says to try brining. Keep the fish skin on for grilling, he says. It helps the fillet stay together and helps keep the fish from drying out.

Fish is done when it is opaque, the top of the fillet starts to flake and moisture can be seen pushing up through the fish.

Finally, watch the heat. A more delicate fish, like trout or catfish, needs high heat. A meatier fish, like swordfish or tuna, can cook over medium.

Grilled trout salad with ramp ranch dressing

Serves 4

If you cannot find ramps, use green onions or garlic scapes, the green part of garlic bulbs that grow above ground.


2 cups sour cream

4 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

6 ramps, chopped

2 sprigs of lemon thyme, stem removed, chopped

2 sprigs of marjoram, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large head of romaine lettuce, chopped

4 radishes, thinly sliced

1 cup sweet peas

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

4 trout fillets

Olive oil blend


Combine sour cream, buttermilk, onion powder, garlic powder, ramps, lemon thyme and marjoram in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place lettuce, radishes, sweet peas and cucumber slices in a large bowl. Pour 1 cup of dressing over the salad and toss. Save remaining dressing for another use. It will keep in the refrigerator for five days.

Preheat grill to high heat. Season trout fillets with salt and pepper. Brush skin side of each fillet with an olive oil blend. Place trout, skin side down, on grill and cook for 1½ minutes and then flip and grill for about 30 seconds. Fish should be opaque and cooked throughout.

Divide salad among four plates. Place a trout fillet on top of each salad.

This recipe is from chef Jason Smith of 18 Seaboard and Cantina 18 in Raleigh, N.C.

Salmon with citrus-spice glaze

Serves 4


3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons orange juice

1½ teaspoons smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 center-cut skin-on salmon fillets (6 ounces each)


Prepare outdoor grill for direct grilling over medium heat.

Stir sugar, orange juice, paprika, cumin and crushed red pepper in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on flesh side of salmon.

Grill salmon, skin side up, 4 minutes, then carefully turn salmon over. Brush sugar mixture over salmon. Cook 4 to 5 minutes longer or until just opaque throughout, continuously brushing sugar mixture over salmon. (Instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of fillets should register 145 degrees.) Carefully remove salmon from grill by sliding long, thin spatula between fish and grill grate. Discard skin.

This recipe is from "The Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen Grilling Cookbook: 225 Sizzling Recipes for Every Season," (Hearst Books, 2013).

Fish brine

Makes 2 cups


2 cups warm water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar


Mix water, salt and sugar and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Submerge the fish in the brine, weighing it down with a plate if need be, and brine according to these guidelines: Trout, shrimp, sardines and other delicate seafood: 15 minutes; bass, barramundi, sablefish and other flaky fillets: 20 minutes; halibut, mahi mahi, blue fish and other flaky, meaty fillets: 30 minutes; salmon, mackerel, Arctic char and other meaty, full-flavored fish: 35 minutes; amberjack, cobia, swordfish and other dense, steak-like fish: 40 minutes.

This recipe is from "Where There's Smoke: Simple Sustainable Delicious Grilling," by Barton Seaver, (Sterling Epicure, 2013).

Cooking Tips

Here are tips for preparing various species of fish:

• BLUEFISH: Roast slowly over a smoky fire and serve with something acidic to mellow out the richness.

• CATFISH: Most fillets are sold without the skin on, which can make grilling difficult with this delicate, flaky fish. Use care and restraint when grilling catfish. Do not fuss with them.

• MAHI MAHI: Choose fresh fillets instead of frozen whenever possible.

• SNAPPER: The skin is key to holding this flaky, fragile fish together. Always grill skin side down.

• TROUT: This fish is easy to grill, but the flesh cooks quickly, so take care. Consider stuffing the cavity of a whole trout with citrus and herbs.

• TUNA: Tuna should be cooked to medium rare. When cooked beyond that point, it tends to dry out quickly.

— From "Where There's Smoke: Simple Sustainable Delicious Grilling," by Barton Seaver, (Sterling Epicure, 2013)

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