Grilling fish and seafood can be intimidating for backyard cooks accustomed to burgers and hot dogs. Ingredients that started out swimming famously are more fragile and should be treated as such. The most dreaded mistake, of course, is overcooking, followed by fish that sticks to the cooking surface. Grilling baskets often are of little assistance.
So the Raleigh News & Observer recently rounded up tips from a handful of experts, including Katherine Alford, vice president of the test kitchen at Food Network Magazine. Before following any of these steps, start with good seafood, or your meal is already sunk.
Here are the News & Observer’s key points for grilling seafood. More, plus more recipes, can be found in last summer’s A la Carte story on grilling fish and seafood.
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 a cooking oil. (Try an olive oil blended with canola oil, which has a good flavor but can handle higher temperatures.) Use tongs to rub the oiled paper towel along the grill grates. Do not spray a cooking oil, like Pam, on the grill when it’s heating. It will cause flames to flare up.
Oil the fish or shellfish, which will help prevent it from sticking.
Once the seafood or fish is placed on the grill, be patient. Our instinct is to fuss with it, to move it, to feel like 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.
Start with the easiest maneuvers, such as shrimp and scallop kebabs, then graduate to fish steaks, like swordfish or tuna, then try 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.
Keep the fish skin on for grilling. 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.
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 heat.