Keeping it simple the key to fabulous grilled fish
There's no surer sign of summer than the shift from cooking indoors to the outdoor grill -- but grilled fish, one of the healthiest options, can be among the most intimidating. What type of fish to select, how to season, how long to cook and what kind of heat are some of the many questions that have rerouted many a suburban cook from the fish to the meat counter at a local supermarket.
But owners of two area fish markets say there's no reason to fear, and note keeping things simple can assure a successful outcome.
Andy Johnson, the longtime owner of Don's Dock Seafood in Des Plaines, says novice cooks should select a firmer fish filet which comes with some of the skin still on -- salmon, tuna, halibut or grouper all being good options.
"That will help hold it together," Johnson says.
Grills should be set to medium heat. On a charcoal grill, Johnson says, a good test is putting your hand about five inches from the heat source, and seeing if it is possible to keep it there for four seconds. Grates should be clean, smooth and rubbed with olive or canola oil so the fish doesn't stick.
Bill Dugan, owner of The Fishguy Market in Chicago, prefers to place fish, seasoned simply with a pinch of salt and lemon zest, inside tinfoil when cooking on the grill to prevent the fish from losing crucial juices.
But Johnson places his fish directly on the oiled grill -- flesh side down first, and then turning halfway through.
A good rule of thumb, Johnson says, is cooking fish for a total of 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Dugan likes to use a thermometer, noting an optimum cooked piece of fish is finished at about 150 degrees at the center.
Visually, a cook can tell if fish is done by cutting into the thickest point. If it's opaque, you're good. If it's still glassy-looking, Johnson says, that means it's not done.
Both Johnson and Dugan prefer to let fish cook simply in its natural juices, but say a splash of wine, marinade or stock can boost taste -- just don't go overboard.
Another option is to brush the top of a filet with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper in its final minutes on the grill. Those who want to marinate their fish only need to do so for a half-hour in the refrigerator before it's ready to cook.
Grilling shrimp can also make a great summer meal, paired with rice and andouille sausage for a Cajun twist, or with corn and potatoes for the feel of a low-country seafood boil. Just make sure to set your grill to medium-low heat and adhere to a timer, Johnson says.
"Fish (filets), if you overcook it a little, it's not the end of the world," he said. "But shrimp, it gets chewy, and nobody likes that."
Shrimp should look grayish when first placed on the grill, and will turn pink and firm in about a minute and a half to two minutes time for large shrimp.
"You want to take them off as quickly as you can," Johnson says. He likes to brine his in salt water before cooking or sprinkle with Old Bay spices.
"Fish is one of the easiest things to cook in the world yet even really great cooks are mystified by it," Dugan says. "Why? I just think it's because there's such a variety out there."