You think chicken is difficult to cook on the grill? Try grilling fish. At least chicken breasts don’t fall apart and crumble into the fire. But fish can and does, especially if it sticks to the grill and you’re trying to turn it with a spatula. Another possible disaster is a tendency for fatty fish, or fish saturated with oils in the marinade, to burn intensely during a flare-up. Dave lost a mackerel fillet that way on a charcoal grill on the beach in Islamorada, Florida. “The fatty fish ignited like a flare and before I could run for water, the fillet resembled a stick of charcoal,” he notes for the record. Even a minor flare-up that catches the fish on fire can spoil the flavor of the fish, so have a squirt gun or spray bottle nearby whenever you grill fish or other seafood.
Another thing that can go wrong with grilled fish is the dreaded over-marination. Fish has this tendency to absorb the marinade so much that the intense flavors can overwhelm the fish, especially delicate white fish. Stick to the suggested marinade times in the individual recipes.
It is especially important to have a clean, well-oiled grill surface when working with fish, and a fish basket is not only recommended for the fillets, but also is also handy for fish steaks. Also, there are special fish turners that you can buy. They have tongs like a fork that fit into the spaces in the grill so that you can get under the piece of fish without scraping.
Smoking fish is less confrontational. A light smoke can be applied during the grilling process, but the most intense smoke is usually reserved for thick hunks of salmon that have been treated with a liquid spice cure first. Interestingly, while there are a lack of cook-offs devoted solely to barbecued chicken, but there are several devoted to salmon in California and Washington!
With the exception of large, whole fish, it is very difficult to take the temperature of fish with an instant-read thermometer, which necessitates “eyeballing” the fish to see when it is done. The rule of thumb for seafood is that fish is done when the outside flakes easily with a fork, and shrimp and scallops are done when they lose their translucency and become opaque.
Fish on the Grill Preparation Hints
“Fish and seafood pick up marinade flavors quickly. Marinating for 15 minutes to an hour should be sufficient. Do not over-marinate, or fish flesh will break down and become mushy. At their simplest, marinades and bastes can be a light application of oil with salt and pepper seasoning. Woods and herbs added to the gill offer another means of flavor enhancement. Fish cooks so quickly over a hot fire that your addition of soaked wood chips or herbs will not penetrate as effectively as will slow smoking with a closed lid grill. But, the heavenly odor in your backyard is worth a try.” –Karen Adler
A Driftwood Barbecue
“My mother, who loved a bonfire, and even more, loved to cook over one, could make the wettest driftwood burn into blazing glory with a deft turn of the paper and kindling. Alas, such a skill as this is more or less a lost art. Nowadays there is something artificial to carry along which is quick and foolproof. Very few people ever attempt to cook over the delicious coals produced by a wood fire. Everyone cooks with charcoal briquets. Not that I have anything against briquets, but I sometimes wish for one of those great fires made with bark that has aged in the sea and drifted onto the beach to dry.” –James Beard, 1960