People who claim they don’t like fish have NEVER had GOOD fish. This blog will tell you how to make GOOD fish!
A lot of folks are scared to grill fish the way it was meant to be grilled, which means….on the grill. I’ve never seen anyone seal up rib steaks in foil, and then put them on the grill. I think even the best USDA Prime rib steak done this way, would pale in comparison to an average steak when grilled in the normal way. So why do it with fish? Fish takes a little more skill to grill than your average steak and that’s why folks are afraid of doing it the right way, which is directly on the grill.
In actual fact, there’s no reason why most fish can’t be put directly on that grill, just like everything else. Aluminum foil is really popular and so are planks, but I’ve never cooked fish on a shingle and see no reason to do so when I know how to cook it directly on the grill. Foil and shingles are popular because folks think the fish will flake apart and fall through the grill onto the coals or burners below. While you might lose a morsel here and there to the charcoal below, there’s only a few fish I’ve ever cooked that were dang near impossible to grill successfully directly on the grill. I’d much rather give up a bite or two to the “angel’s share” than wrap my fish in foil and call it “grilled”; might as well bake the thing in the oven if you wrap it up in foil. Fish grilled directly over the coals or even on a gas grill tastes so much better than the same fish sealed in foil. Hermetically sealed in foil, the fish doesn’t get any of the caramelization and flavor it normally would acquire from the fire and searing that goes on while cooking.
There’s a couple of tools necessary to really do a great grilling job on fish, plus there’s a few kinds of fish that are more amenable to direct grilling than some other kinds of fish. Through experience, I’ve encountered a few species which are very difficult to near impossible to grill and some that are really easy. Plus some cuts of fish are easier than others to grill. If you really don’t want to lose any fish to the “angel’s share”, then you should invest in a fish basket. A fish basket is a flat two sided basket made from closely-spaced wire mesh into which you can put your fish, latch the basket closed and then put it on the grill. When it comes time to turn the fish, all you have to do is to flip the basket over. Fish, when properly done in a fish basket comes out great!
When I cook fish, I put it right on the grill. Fish needs a coating of oil to avoid sticking to the grill, which is why Miners Mix Salmon Marinade is such a great seasoning for fish! Blend the packet with soy sauce, vinegar and olive oil and soak your fish for about 15-20 min only, then grill. The marinade works wonderfully with ALL fish, we get eye-rolls and an OMG! with lowly tilapia, for example. At home we do quite a bit of salmon and buy filets with skin on one side at the local shopping warehouse. I used to fish long-range boats off Baja, CA and I’m really picky about my fish. Those big warehouses are best because they have a very high turnover so your fish is FRESH! If your fish smells fishy, or worse tastes fishy, then it’s not fresh! I stay away from grocery stores that put the same ol’ filets out there day after day on ice for a week or more, or worse yet, wrap that filet with stretch wrap in a Styrofoam container and set it next to the beef.
After marinating, place the fish on the grill skin side down if using salmon filets. With catfish, tilapia, or many other fish, there usually is no skin. If cooking fish steaks, then just leave the skin on to hold the meat together. If directly on the grill, sans fish basket, place the filet perpendicular to, or across the grill wires, not parallel to the wires. This is an important consideration when it comes time to flip the fish. Let the fish grill for four to five minutes or even a little longer if the fire is not real hot. Time to flip the fish! I have a big, wide spatula with the blade about 10” wide. If you don’t have a big wide fish spatula, use two regular spatulas. You need to support the filet over most of its length. It’s important for the spatulas to have flat, not rounded or beveled blades. Cooked fish is fragile; if the blade is rounded, when you angle the spatula to slip it under the fish, there will be a gap at the blade left and right that will tend to tear up and fragment the filet. With a quick sharp motion, slip the spatula, or if using both hands and two spatulas, under the filet and then angle the blades up to near vertical and then with a gentle motion, roll the fish over onto the other side. You might lose a bite or so of the fish but that’s the “angel’s share” anyway. Once flipped, if it’s done enough, you should be able to effortlessly peel the skin cleanly off the filet. I use tongs or sometimes the spatula to get a piece of skin up so I can then pull it with my fingers. After the skin is off, drizzle more marinade onto the fresh surface.
Tuna or ahi, albacore, and other tunas tend to hold together fairly well and will stand up to rougher treatment. In texture, tuna is more like a steak than a fish. Easiest of all are tuna steaks or any other fish steak for that matter. The skin holds them together in a nice meat package really well, but you still want to use the spatula-roll technique when flipping them over. Rock fish and red snapper filets are intermediate. They’re quite a bit more flaky and tend to fall apart easier than salmon, and might be better candidates for that fish grilling basket. Whole fish such as trout, grill easily and the skin will peel off just like with salmon filets, if you want skinless trout. About the only fish that’s ever defeated me is Dover sole. This stuff just falls apart if you look at it wrong. A definite grill basket candidate for sure!
Fish is done when it feels done. It will be flaky and separate easily. It cooks quickly, so don’t go far away when you’re grilling fish. Dover sole, being incredibly flaky, remains soft and mushy even when cooked completely through. Fish is considered “cooked” when it’s in the range of 120 to 145F, according to online sources. However, since folks eat it raw, I guess it could be considered “cooked” as soon as it comes out of the water. In general, fish will be a little less soft when done and with filets, the thinner sections will be done before the thicker sections are done. I’ve developed a sense of feeling it with the spatula to determine if it’s done. If some folks like their fish on the rare side, then things should be just about perfect for everybody.