Page 28 - Barbecue News Magazine SEPT 2020
P. 28

grilling fish
How to Grill Fish
There is one overriding secret to cooking great fish: Buy fresh fish.
Fish quality deteriorates rapidly after it dies, more rapidly than any other meat. There is a noticeable quality difference in a fish caught today and a fish caught three days ago. Freshness often trumps the type of fish. I would rather have fresh farm-raised tilapia than week old wild grouper. If you live along the coasts, you have a distinct advantage. But even if you live in the center of the country, it’s possible to get good fresh fish, but it isn’t easy and you need to be prepared to pay more.
Fish remain freshest when it is in contact with ice. Not on top of plastic on ice, but actually on ice. The flesh needs to be as cold as possible without freezing. When in contact with ice a thin layer of cold water forms between the fish and ice and that keep it as cold as possible without freezing and retains moisture. Stores that lay the fish on trays or plastic on top of ice are just trying to save money on ice.
Freezing can create ice shards that rupture the cells, which in turn causes juice to purge and creates a mushy texture. This doesn’t mean you should avoid all frozen fish. Fishing boats are often at sea for weeks, and many have flash-freezing equipment. These chillers are extremely cold and freeze the fish so quickly that large ice crystals can’t form. A flash-frozen fish is far superior to a never-frozen fish that has been in a ship’s hold for a few days, then shipped to a warehouse, and finally to your store.
Buy from a store that sells a lot of fish. Specialty fish stores that buy directly from the docks or seafood distributors are the best sources. Get to know your fishmonger. When you go in, ask for him or her by name and inquire what is fresh today. Find out when your favorite species are in season and what regions pro- duce the best.
Cold-water varieties tend to be fattier, and it’s the fat that carries flavor and moisture. Swordfish from the northern hemisphere, for example, is best in late summer. Line-caught Alaskan salmon is at its prime in spring. A good source of information is It also tells you which species are endangered and should be avoided.
Fish is often labeled with the catch date, but there are several in- dicators of freshness if you don’t have the catch date. Your nose is the best judge: Fresh fish should smell more like the ocean or sea- weed. Its eyes should be clear. Sometimes eyes get bruised and red from handling, but cloudy eyes are one indicator that the fish may be older. Gills should be bright red. Gills mix blood and oxygen; if
they are turning brown, it is a good sign the fish has been dead a while.
The cut matters a lot, too. You can get fish whole (usually gutted and scaled), filleted (each side is removed from the spine, back- bones, and ribs), or as steaks (cut across the body). Each cut re- quires a slightly different approach to cooking.
How To Butcher A Fish
Start by snipping off the fins with kitchen shears. Be very careful because they can stab you and you can get a nasty infection. You can leave the tail on or remove it (it tends to burn on the grill).
Scrape off the scales. Do this in the sink, because scales fly every- where. Special fish scalers make easy work of them, but a serrated knife or another small knife can do the job. Practically all fish in stores have been gutted, but if this is a fresh catch, you will need to remove the intestines. Get a sharp, pointed knife and insert it in the belly just in front of the anal fin and cut forward to the col- lar. You can use scissors for this, too. Reach in and pull out all the entrails. Rinse the fish, especially the cavity. If there is still a vein or blood in the cavity, try to get it out. If you can’t, don’t worry, because it is right along the spine and you likely won’t be eating there. As for the head, there is a nugget of delight in the cheeks. But some people just don’t like eating something that’s watching them, so you may want to remove the head. Lift the gill cover and cut through. Behind the gill slot is a bone called the collar, and there is good meat on it. (Here’s a tip: Toss the head in a zipper- top freezer bag and freeze it. Anytime you prep a fish, add the new head to the bag, and when you get half a dozen or so, simmer them to make fish stock that can be used as a soup base or for cooking couscous or rice.)
You can now cook the fish whole, cut it perpendicular to the spine to make steaks, or fillet it.
To fillet it, run your knife from head to tail along the sides of the dorsal fin. Make a shallow cut. Keep working the tip down farther and farther, scraping along the top of the bones.
After the fillet is removed from the skeleton, run your hands along it to feel for pin bones. There are often rib bones around the belly cavity left behind. Pull them straight out with clean needle- nose pliers. You can add the carcass to the bag with the head in the freezer.
A Sticky Issue
Most fish is white fleshed, lower in myoglobin, higher in water content, and lower in fat than other meat. This poses some prob- - 28

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