By: Chef Alan Zox
March 27, 2019
Grilling and smoking fish are two cooking methods that create wonderful flavors and delicious meals. But they are distinct and unique from one another. Knowing the differences will enhance your cooking skills and delight your families and friends.
Lightly smoking your fish for no more than 5-10 minutes will at a low temperature of 200F- 225°F will yield delicious results. Using a piece of tin foil or a special grill smoking box containing alder or apple wood chips placed on top of white coals will do the trick. You can shorten the cooking time even more by poaching or braising your fish beforehand in a Court Bouillon flavored with fresh herbs and then following up with a few minutes of smoking. Alas, there is no set recipe to follow. The flavor you are after will depend upon the time your fish is in your covered smoker, the type of fruitwood chips used, and the variations you experiment with in your bouillon.
Grilling or steaming your fish are more familiar techniques than smoking for many cooks since grilling and steaming take less time than cooking at a lower temperature. And that may be why salt-water fish, like burgers and beef steaks, are normally grilled.
Several facts about cooking fish are essential to enhancing seafood cooking prowess. For example, only selecting fresh fish that have firm flesh and a moist appearance is certainly the most important factor. Avoid fish that smells too “fishy”. Fresh fish should smell briny like salt water.
Several saltwater fish are ideal for grilling including Halibut, Salmon, Stripped Bass, Swordfish and Tuna among others. Derrick Riches, the grilling and BBQ consultant, recommends oiling your cooking grate to avoid sticking before you start grilling -- especially when cooking fish fillets. Using a grilling or fish basket makes the task of grilling fillets easier and prevents them from falling apart when turned. Thick cuts such as fish steaks hold together better and make grilling much easier. Seasoning seafood is not really necessary. I enjoy adding very few spices or herbs since the fish alone is so delicious. A pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon at the end of the cooking process are usually sufficient.
The length of time you grill your fish varies by taste but 10 minutes per inch is a good guideline. You can also tell when the fish is done by using a fork to flake the fish apart or use a thermometer – fish should reach a temperature of 145° F.
Here’s a recipe that children and adults enjoyed at a recent family reunion in Florida. I fed 17 cousins— all healthy eaters— a version of Paella that was simple to cook when using Southern Grouper. In more northern waters you can achieve a similar outcome with fish such as Halibut, Striper, Swordfish or Cod, among others. If you experiment with other kinds of fish please advise. I will post it on my blog!
Paella with Saltwater Flat Fish
For the Vegetable stock:
9 cups water
1 roughly chopped carrot
2 celery stalks chopped
1 onion chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Paella:
2 cups Arborio (also called Risotto) Rice
1 medium sweet onion diced fine
1 large carrot, diced
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pinches of Saffron, dissolved in ½ cup water
1.5 lb flat fish fillets, cut into 3 x 2 inch slices
1 15 oz. jar of roasted red pepper, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup frozen green peas
½ cup chopped parsley
Lemon wedges for serving
Optional: 8 oz. fresh shrimp, or cleaned squid cut into rings
1- Make the stock by simmering the water with the vegetables, bay leaf and salt and pepper for 45 minutes. Strain, return to the pot, and cover to stay warm.
2- To a 12” frying pan or paella pan add the olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter and melt over medium heat. Sauté the diced onion and carrot until translucent before adding the saffron and rice and sauté until the rice is coated with oil and slightly crispy.
3- Add the heated broth to the rice a ladle at a time stirring well and simmering until the rice is al dente – firm to the tooth – about 20 minutes.
4- Submerge the slices of fish and (if using) shellfish into the rice along with the peas and roasted red pepper. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, parsley and cook for an additional 6-8 minutes to warm up the vegetables and cook the fish. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. Enjoy!