By Vernon Summerlin
It’s spring and it’s time to take it outside – cooking that is. This month we’re going outdoors to grill some slab fillets. We are cooking the manly way, waving our fillets over a flame and burning our fingers picking pieces out of the fire.
Fish Grilling Secrets
Actually these are tips. Grilling has been around so long I don’t think there are any worthwhile secrets left to reveal.
Grilling used to be a pain for me (literally and figuratively) until Cathy bought me a mesh screen to keep the fish above the grate. Cooked crappies and other fish flake easily, stick to the grate and fall between the cracks. I needed the screen so I’d have enough fish left to put on our plates. (I could have grilled the fish in foil packets but I’ll get to that technique later.)
I rub olive oil or melted butter on my fillets to prevent them from sticking to the mesh. If you don’t have the stainless steel mesh screen, don’t use a window screen. It’ll melt and add an awful taste to the fish.
However, you can slaver your fillets with mayo, olive oil, butter, or any edible oily substance. (Stay away to 10W30 and WD40.)
Another way to keep your fingers out of the flames is to put your fish or other meats in a gridiron. It’s a metal grate with parallel bars typically used for grilling. Get the gridiron that is made of two grids hinged together and folds so it’ll hold your fish securely. Get gridirons that are all metal.
You could get a grilling basket but most of them are too deep and the fish flops and tears when turning it over. Some keep your fish too far above the heat. Also keep in mind that the handles need to be inside the grill, which means wooden handles won’t last.
So far I like the mesh screen method. It helps me keep from feeding the flames with fish.
Cook’s Illustrated magazine, a bimonthly publication (see cooksillustrated.com), may have the answer for keeping your fish from sticking to the grate.
They suggest putting an inverted disposable aluminum pie plate pushed flat over your charcoal burning grill to super heat the grate. For gas grills, use a sheet of aluminum foil flush against the grate, leaving space at the edges for ventilation. Super heating cleans the grate of debris.
Next, season the grate with 10 to 15 applications of oil, like you seasoned that cast iron fry pan you used for years. After many applications of oil you create a nonstick grate. It takes time to get that protective layer of cooked-in oil
Prepping to Cook
Whether using gas, charcoal, electric or grill pans, get your grill as hot as you can. You want to sear the fish as soon as it hits the grate. The heat seals in the juices and immediately firms the flesh, making it less likely to stick to the grate and easier to flip. Use two spatulas to turn your fish.
Leave the skin on each fillet. Crappies are fairly fragile flesh and the skin holds it together better.
Good News – Bad News
Grilling is often presented as a healthy alternative to cooking with oil, although the fat and juices lost by grilling can contribute to drier food. (That’s the good news?)
Studies have shown that meat cooked at high temperatures can lead to the formation of carcinogens. There are some marinades using garlic, rosemary, basil, mint, sage, savory, marjoram, olive oil, cherries and vitamin E that may reduce the formation of the carcinogenic compounds.
Another method is pre-cooking the meat in your microwave, then draining the juices so they don’t fall onto flames and create the bad compounds. But where’s the good taste in that?
Now that you’re armed with more information than you probably wanted let’s light the fires.
Cajun Grilled Crappies.
8 crappie fillets (with or without skin)
Spanish rice, I package
Corn, 1 can
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
Shredded cheddar cheese
Season crappie fillets with salt, pepper and Cajun seasonings. Lightly coat the fillet with melted butter to prevent sticking to the grill. Prepare Spanish rice per package instructions and add 1 can of whole kernel corn and jalapeno pepper. When fillets are nearly done cover with a large dollop of chunky salsa and shredded cheese. Let the cheese melt completely. Place fillets on a bed of rice mixture.
Lemon Soy Marinade
8 crappie fillets (with or without skin)
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
1/4 c. olive oil
Combine ingredients 2 through 5 in a blender and process 10 seconds. With motor running, gradually add olive oil in a slow, steady stream. In a shallow dish, combine fish and marinade. Cover and place in refrigerator for 1 hour. Place fish on well oiled grill. Or put fish in a gridiron or basket coated with cooking spray and place on grill and close the cover. Cook over medium heat. Turn once and brush with marinade. Cook until fish flakes.