Do you approach the outdoor cooking season with increasing stress?
Are you abandoning your health-conscious menus in favor of red meats, hot dogs and burgers?
You may be suffering from a fairly common culinary malady afflicting many otherwise competent cooks at this time of year.
You may be suffering from . . .
Fear of fish!
Overcooked fish. Charred fish. Fish crumbling into the coals.
With so much fish being consumed for reasons of health, more cooks are learning to handle this often fragile food. But many still have problems. Problems we addressed to fish expert Bud Bruno, owner of the Fresh Spot fish market in Haverford, Pa.
"I don't know that there's any type of fish I haven't used on the grill," said Mr. Bruno. "You shouldn't be limited by the fact that it is cooked on a grill.
"Just remember the rule of 10 minutes [cooking time] to an inch of thickness. With a gas grill, that usually means using the low setting or a temperature around 400 degrees."
The inch rule applies to all fish regardless of length or weight, said Mr. Bruno. But if your grill is much hotter than 400 degrees, reduce the cooking time to between 7 and 10 minutes to the inch. Just as with meats, you can cook something a few minutes more if necessary. You can't undo overcooking. Fish falls apart only if it is overcooked, he said.
The most obvious measure of doneness for fish is the opaque white or light color that replaces the translucence of the raw flesh as it cooks.
A short time on a medium-hot grill works for small fish or thin filets, which will cook through quickly without turning. Thick fish portions should be grilled at a lower temperature and turned once for even cooking. When filets taper, tuck the thin end under to even the thickness.
Mr. Bruno also recommends grilling fish with the skin on.
"I don't scale them either, because on the grill the scales are a natural protection for the fish. Even without the scales the skin would become too crisp and hard to eat."
That skin shield can be left on the grill if it burns or sticks. Just run a spatula gently between the flesh and the skin and lift what should be perfectly cooked fish onto a serving plate. The skin can be scraped off the grill later.
Of the many ways to flavor fish on the grill, Mr. Bruno favors marinades.
"I like marinating because it's easier, less hassle, not too involved," he said. Just mix the marinade, pour it over the fish, and refrigerate it for one hour or more to absorb flavors. Marinades also keep fish moist.
According to Mr. Bruno, anything, everything, can be marinated, even though the more flavorful fish, like salmon and bluefish, don't really need it. When preparing fish for kebabs, Mr. Bruno notes that it is best to marinate the chunks before threading them onto skewers. Kebabs cook more evenly when food chunks are kept fairly uniform in size.
To grill a stuffed, whole fish without the benefit of a grill basket, simply tie wet kitchen twine around the body of the fish to secure the filling.
The marinades, sauces and methods of preparation in the recipes that follow may be used with other types of fish and shellfish, according to your tastes.
Korean marinated rainbow trout
Makes 6 servings.
3/4 cup sesame seeds
2 cups low-sodium dark soy sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup crushed garlic
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 cup vegetable oil (combined olive and safflower or your choice)
6 dressed rainbow trout, 8 to 12 ounces each
In dry skillet, saute (pan roast) sesame seeds until golden. Transfer to mixing bowl and stir in soy, sugar, garlic and scallion. Slowly add oil and stir until whisking briskly. Place trout in a layer in large glass baking pan and pour marinade into and over the fish. Let marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator. If using a gas grill, preheat on high for 10 minutes, then reduce setting to cook on low. Or set cooking rack several inches over medium-hot coals. Open trout, butterfly-style, and place fish flat, skin side down on the grill. Baste fish with marinade. Close lid or place suitable heatproof cover over fish and cook for eight to 10 minutes. To cook uncovered, allow 10 to 12 minutes. When done, use spatula to slide cooked fish off of the skin and onto a serving plate.
Makes 6 to 8 skewers, 4 to 8 servings.
2 cups ketchup
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon liquid hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon thyme
1 pound large (21-25 count) shrimp
At least 1/2 hour before grilling, heat ketchup in a saucepan on burner or over coals until it reaches a simmer. Add honey, garlic, pepper sauce, red, cayenne and black peppers, chili powder and thyme. Let simmer, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and devein shrimp, leaving tails intact. Thread shrimp on skewers, 3 or 4 per skewer, and set aside. When sauce is ready, use it to baste the skewered shrimp. Grill shrimp about 3 minutes on each side until done. Baste with additional sauce as desired.