North Carolina Sea Grant
Mariner's Menu

Mariner's Menu

June 26, 2012 | Joyce Taylor

methods of preparation

In ancient times, men and women cooked over an open fire as an alternative to eating raw food. Today, with all our advances and conveniences, we still love to cook outdoors over a flame. And it’s not just burgers and steaks anymore. A meal of fresh seafood, prepared simply outdoors and eaten in the company of friends, is one of life’s real pleasures. Most of our Nutrition Leaders hold fond memories of family and neighbors gathering for oyster roasts by the shore, or fish fresh from the boat and hot off the grill.

In addition to great flavor, grilled seafood is easy, quick and convenient. And it doesn’t heat up the kitchen. It’s also healthful, requiring little, if any, added fat. As in baking or broiling, you may need to use a little oil and baste lean fish for grilling, but not with oiler fish. In general no elaborate seasonings, sauces or marinades are needed.

Selecting seafood to grill

Fish in any market form – drawn, dressed, steaks or fillets – may be cooked over coals. You can grill any fish that you can broil. Shellfish, depending on the recipe, may be grilled in the shell or shucked. Use the freshest fish and shellfish you can find. Lack of quality means lack of good flavor.

Firm fish such as shark or tuna can be cooked directly on the grill. With careful handling, medium-firm fish such as salmon or grouper can be cooked the same way. Steaks and skin-on fillets should be about one inch thick if they are to be cooked directly on the grill. When cooking skin-on fillets, begin grilling with the skin side down.

Small foods such as shucked shellfish, pieces of fish and vegetables grill easily on skewers. Create your own kabobs by alternating a variety of foods such as different seafoods, vegetables and fruit. Try using pineapple and bell pepper chunks on a skewer with sea scallops, for example, or onion wedges and button mushrooms with shrimp.

Choosing grilling accessories

You can use metal or bamboo skewers. Just remember to soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before using to prevent burning.

You will find that using a hinged metal grill or fish basket will make almost all seafood grilling easier. Long handles make these utensils easy to use, and they adjust to the fish’s thickness. When it’s time to turn the food, simply flip the hinged grill or basket.

You can find inexpensive hinged grills and baskets at discount or hardware stores, or sometimes in supermarkets. Always oil the grill before placing food in it.

Delicate fish such as flounder or trout, thin fillets and shucked shellfish always should be cooked in a hinged grill. This maintains their shape and prevents them from falling into the fire.

While thin fillets do not have to be turned, they will maintain more grilled flavor if they are.

Grilling tips

Do not overcook. Fish should always be moist and tender, never dry and chewy. Cook only until meat flakes easily when tested with a fork or tip of a sharp knife. Crustaceans are low in fat and will dry out quickly. Watch shrimp and crabs carefully and remove from the heat quickly.

You don’t need a recipe for grilling oysters and clams in the shell. Just scrub the shells under cold, running water, then place them on the grill. Place oysters with the deep shell on the bottom. Grill until shells open and the meat is done, about 7 to 12 minutes for oysters, 5 to 8 minutes for clams.

Always use a clean rack. Preheat it, then brush with vegetable oil or spray. Cook seafood about four inches above moderately hot coals. Depending upon size, fillets will cook in 6 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness. Turn once. And always check for doneness before the cooking time is up.

When cooking drawn or dressed fish, score each side. Make three cuts diagonally along each side to ensure cooking.

Use a covered grill if you can. It provides faster cooking and keeps the seafood moist and tender. If you use an open grill, your cooking time will vary due to wind and air temperature.

Seafood tastes great when cooked on a grill, whether charcoal or gas. Gas is more convenient, and the fire will always be about the same temperature as the setting. But gas grills don’t sear or brown as well as charcoal. Charcoal has the advantage of adding smoke and wood flavor, too even though you have to light the fire and keep it going.

For additional smoked flavor, add hardwood chips such as hickory or oak to coals. A smoky flavor enhances fatty fish such as mackerel, but may overwhelm leaner fish such as flounder. Be careful when using mesquite, it may overpower the flavor of the food. When using chips, follow the package directions, then adjust to you preferences.

Me – I’m a purist. I love the delicate flavor that charcoal imparts to food. No chips, no gas grill. You, too should follow your personal tastes.

You can baste seafood with oil or melted butter or margarine when grilling. Some people use a favorite salad dressing or mayonnaise. Remember that oily fish such as salmon and mackerel retain moisture and need little or no basting.

Spicing it up with marinades, rubs and herbs

Many cooks like to marinate seafood before grilling. Always make marinades in a nonreactive container such as glass or stainless steel, never in aluminum or any other metal that can cause chemical action or add an off-flavor to the food. To prevent grill flare-ups, limit the amount of oil used. If a flare-up occurs, cover the grill or use water from a spray bottle to put out the flame. Be careful to avoid scattering ashes onto the food.

Marinating seafood 15 to 30 minutes usually proves sufficient. Marinating for longer periods in high-acid mixtures (wine, vinegar, citrus juices) causes fish and shellfish to turn opaque and firm with a cooked appearance. This will make them dry and tough.

If you plan to use the marinade for basting, reserve some before placing the seafood in it. Never baste cooked fish or shellfish with marinade that has been used on raw seafood. The food can become contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Tasty rubs provide another alternative for spicing up grilled seafood. A rub is a concentrated blend of herbs and spices. You can create your own flavors, such as Mexican, Creole or herb. Commercial marinades, rubs and sauces are easy to use and are often sold at seafood markets or your grocery store. Simply rub or sprinkle the mixture over the surface of the seafood before cooking.

No time for a recipe? Then keep it simple and quick. Try brushing a fillet with melted margarine, butter or oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place it on the grill for a few minutes. Or spread mayonnaise or a garlic or herb butter over the fish. In a flash, it’s ready and tastes wonderful.

For subtle flavors, try tossing herbs such as bay, basil, thyme, tarragon or rosemary on the hot coals. The herbs should be soaked for 30 minutes before using.

To complement your meal, try grilling your vegetables, too. Corn-in-the-husk, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, potatoes and other vegetables cook up great on the grill.

Spicy Flounder with Garlic Mayonnaise

Prepare Garlic Mayonnaise (recipe below) and refrigerate.

Combine black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and cumin. Pour onto plate. Dredge fillets in mixture. Place in greased, hinged wire grill.

Grill, skin side down, about 4 inches from coals until one side is done, about 5 to 6 minutes. Turn and repeat on other side until fish flakes easily, about 5 to 6 minutes. Spread with Garlic Mayonnaise. Cut into serving-size pieces. Serves 4 to 6.

Garlic Mayonnaise:

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, mustard and tarragon. Refrigerate until ready to use. Spread over cooked fillets.

From: Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas 

Contributed by Joyce Taylor


Comments are closed.