Gentle art of grilling fresh fish

June 25, 2000|By Annette Gooch | Annette Gooch,Universal Press Syndicate

There are two keys to grilling fish: Use the freshest fish you can buy, and cook the fish in a way that prevents its natural flavor and succulence from going up in smoke.

Before you fire up the grill, consider the fat content of the fish you've purchased. Rich, darker-fleshed fish such as swordfish, catfish and trout, containing from 5 percent to 50 percent fat, generally don't require basting to stay moist during grilling. Not so with white-fleshed varieties containing less than 5 percent fat, such as sole, flounder or rockfish. In the dry heat of grilling, these leaner fish will dry out unless they're frequently basted.

Seafood is most succulent when grilled over a hot charcoal fire to seal in the natural juices, and handled gently to keep the delicate flesh from breaking apart. Oiling and preheating the grill rack help keep fish or any other food from sticking to it, but lean fish still needs to be brushed with fat or liquid before placing it on the rack and during grilling.

How long to grill fish depends on its thickness and the density of the flesh, how close the fish is to the heat source, and the type of heat.

This Basque recipe features a highly seasoned topping for grilled fish. For convenience, you can prepare the peppers up to a day ahead and rewarm them before spooning them over the fish.

Grilled Rockfish With Peppers and Capers

Serves 6

3 red bell peppers (or 1 each red, yellow and green)

7 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons capers

salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

pinch hot pepper flakes

6 fillets (6 to 8 ounces each) rockfish or other lean, firm-fleshed white fish

Halve bell peppers, remove stems, ribs and seeds, and cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. In a large skillet over moderate heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add peppers and stir to coat with oil. Add thyme and cover; cook peppers for 10 minutes. Uncover, add garlic and capers, and raise heat to high. Saute for 30 seconds, stirring. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and cayenne.

Prepare a hot charcoal fire. Thirty minutes before fire is ready, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice and pepper flakes. Brush fish with half of mixture. Refrigerate fish until 10 minutes before cooking time, then warm to room temperature. Salt and pepper fish, then grill until internal temperature registers 160 degrees (or about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness), basting occasionally with remaining marinade. Fish need not be turned. Serve immediately, topping each portion with warm pepper mixture.

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