Summer vacations are synonymous with fresh fish. My father set out in the wee hours of the morning to catch Wisconsin lake perch and walleye for a family meal. Occasionally, the plan worked.
Nowadays, when traveling, I order local fish at restaurants or seek out fish markets to cook someone else’s daily catch. Then I light the grill at our vacation rental or at a beachside park. Armed with some good olive oil, salt, and pepper, the grilling could not be easier or faster.
When grilling fish at home, I start by making a pot of creamy mashed potatoes or corn-sweetened polenta to accompany the fish. Seasonal vegetables, such as asparagus or small zucchinis, can be grilled before the fish; they taste great at room temperature. Sides done, the cook can concentrate on grilling the fish. An easy smoked tomato vinaigrette transforms simple fish into a restaurant-worthy treat.
Thick fish fillets, such as salmon, halibut, and mahi-mahi, taste great on the grill. Plan on 11 minutes per inch of thickness for cooking time. Thinner fillets, such as ocean perch, snapper, or tilapia, cook in about half the time.
Many large supermarkets sell whole, farm-raised rainbow or brook trout. They typically are less expensive than other fish and have delicate flesh and a mild, sweet taste. Purchase them cleaned and trimmed; I remove the heads before grilling so I can use them to make a mild fish broth. Cook the headless fish, splayed out flat on a hot grill skin side down for a couple of minutes. Then, finish the cooking by the indirect method (away from the heat source) for a total time of about 5 minutes.
Leftover grilled fish makes a beautiful salad. Thinly slice ripe fresh tomatoes and arrange them in overlapping circles on a plate. Top with flakes of the grilled fish, diced avocado, and spoonfuls of the vinaigrette.
Fish Grilling Tips
1. Always preheat the grill grate so it is very hot.
2. Oil the fish, not the grill grate, to help prevent sticking.
3. Do not try to move the fish around or flip it over; it will stick and break.
4. After the fish has developed a golden sear on one side, rather than attempting to move the fish, turn off the burners underneath it to finish cooking indirectly. If using a charcoal grill, rotate the cooking grate so the fish can finish cooking in a cooler section of the grill.
5. Use a very thin flexible spatula to remove the fish from the grill with minimal breaking.
Grilled Trout With Smoked Tomato and Pine Nut Vinaigrette
Makes 4 servings
- 4 rainbow trout, cleaned, 9 to 10 ounces each, or about 2 pounds trout filets, ocean perch, or small tilapia filets
- Coarse (kosher) salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (1.5 ounces) or slivered almond or chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup (about 1 ounce) finely chopped smoked sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Rinse fish and pat dry. Place on an oiled baking dish. Season fish or fillets with salt and pepper on all sides. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil, turning to coat all sides. Refrigerate covered for up to a couple of hours.
For smoked tomato vinaigrette, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat until warm. Add garlic and pine nuts. Cook, stirring constantly just until nuts are golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sun-dried tomatoes and green onions. Let cool to room temperature.
Prepare a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium-hot. Let grill grates heat for at least 5 minutes.
Stir the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and the vinegar into the garlic mixture. Add 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper to taste. Set near the cooking surface.
Add fish to grill, skin side down, directly over heat source. Cover grill and cook until skin starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Turn off the gas burner directly under the fish (leave other burners on) or rotate the charcoal grill grate so fish is no longer over the coals. Do not try to move the fish and do not flip them over.
Cover the grill and cook until the flesh is opaque and nearly flakes with a fork, 3 to 4 minutes more.
Use a very thin metal spatula to carefully remove fish from the grill and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with some of the smoked tomato vinaigrette. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.
Sweet Corn and Parmesan Polenta
Note: You’ll need 3 large ears of corn to yield 2 cups of kernels. Thawed, frozen kernels make a quick substitute; so does canned cream-style corn. Look for instant polenta in boxes or pouches in the Italian section of large supermarkets.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 cups (about 12 ounces) fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup (6 ounces) instant polenta
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
Puree corn kernels in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Put chicken broth and garlic into a large, deep saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly whisk in the polenta until smooth. Reduce heat to low. Use a wooden spatula or silicone spoon to cook and stir polenta until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in pureed corn, cheese, and pepper. Remove from heat and cover tightly for up to 30 minutes.
To serve, gently warm the mixture over low heat while stirring in 1/4 cup hot water and the butter to return it to a creamy stage. Serve hot.