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From the Sea to the Grill
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— July 16, 2019

From the Sea to the Grill

By Corinne Gaffner Garcia
  • Seafood is a summer staple for outdoor cooks.
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From Seafood to the Grill

Life is good with a grill: that satisfying sizzle, the smoky aroma wafting around the neighborhood, the joy of standing outside, perhaps barefoot, preparing a meal to share with friends and family.

For many people, seafood is a grilling go-to: much of it is in season, and therefore at peak freshness. Click To Tweet

Grilled seafood also makes for a light meal and the perfect accompaniment to salads and grilled vegetables. And most importantly, because seafood is a lean source of protein loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it’s healthy.

With barbecue season in full swing, here are some of the top seafood picks along with tips for seasoning and grilling.

Fish That Can Take the Heat

A beautifully grilled fillet of fish is a sight, but as many home chefs know, it’s also quite a feat.

Becky Selengut, chef and author of Good Fish: 100 Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast (Sasquatch Books), says the key is choosing the right kind of fish—one that stands up well to the grill—and using the right cooking method. 

Fattier fish, such as coho, sockeye or king salmon, are the best picks for grilling. Click To Tweet

Selengut says these varieties also have what she describes as an “ocean-forward” flavor. “High fat, like that in salmon, carries a lot of flavor,” she explains. “It’s a more pronounced ocean flavor that sardines and mackerel also have.” Somewhat leaner fish like halibut and tuna also work well on the grill, but with less fat and therefore less flavor, accompanying sauces can be used to jazz things up. 

Healthy Seafood Options
When you’re buying seafood, there’s a lot to consider besides flavor; issues such as possible toxin contamination and sustainable fisheries come into play. Selengut aims to educate chefs and home cooks about healthy seafood—and the health of the ocean—by offering the following simple guidelines:

Wild over farmed: As a general rule, Selengut says, farmed fish doesn’t have the omega-3 profile that wild fish has, and it is at risk for more contamination due to the fact that the fish are crammed together as opposed to swimming freely. “It’s kind of like eating lean, wild game versus a factory-farmed cow,” she says. “Fat, antibiotic-laden farmed salmon…It’s a different beast.”

Buy domestic: By doing so, Selengut says that consumers can eliminate 90% of the issues that pertain to healthy seafood and oceans. “Most of the unsustainably farmed fish is coming from Southeast Asia,” she says. “Even for farmed salmon, tuna and shrimp, the US has better fisheries management and guidelines.”

Diversify: Just eating a few types of fish puts more pressure on those species, and more pressure on the farming of those species. When you consume a diversity of fish, there’s a more stable market for each one, which leads to more sustainable fishing practices.

Smaller is better: When it comes to mercury levels, you want to eat fish that are lower on the food chain. Because bigger fish eat smaller fish, they absorb the mercury contamination in their prey, meaning the levels exponentially increase as you go up the food chain. Examples of fish you want to either buy or avoid include:

Buy: Smaller forage creatures, such as sardines, scallops, clams, crabs, catfish, shrimp and flounder

Avoid: Shark, mackerel (king), bluefin tuna, swordfish and marlin

Along with wild salmon, Judith Fertig, co-author of 25 Essential Techniques: Grilling Fish (Harvard Common), also recommends US-farmed catfish for beginning seafood grillers.

“It’s sustainable, mild-flavored, holds together well on the grill, you know where it’s from and it’s readily available,” she says. “Farm-raised catfish also can take on almost any kind of seasoning or sauce and tastes great.”

Fertig also steers people towards whole trout, a leaner fish that’s best cooked in a lightly oiled grill basket to avoid having it break up when flipped. “Stuff the cleaned trout with fresh aromatic herbs, like tarragon, basil, Italian parsley and a few thin slices of lemon,” she says. “Place the trout in the grill basket and brush the fish with olive oil. Grill, turning from time to time, for about 20 minutes or until the fish begins to flake when tested with a fork in the thickest part.”

For seasoning fish, Selengut tends to stay away from marinades, which can cover up the authentic flavor and, in her opinion, wastes unnecessary ingredients and time. Instead, she leans more on fresh herbs and spices and complementary sauces.

“I use dry rubs, chopped-up herbs or ground spices mixed with salt, and sprinkle it on fish,” she says. “Then you can spend more energy on the side dishes or sauces to serve it with.” When it comes to sauces, she likes salsa verde, fresh pesto romesco and a teriyaki soy caramel sauce.

Grilling all types of seafood means starting with an exceptionally clean grill. Click To Tweet

Selengut recommends preheating it to as high as it will go, applying a high-heat oil that won’t flare up—such as avocado, safflower or rice bran oil—with a paper towel, filling in the pores of the grill grates and placing the fish on when it’s fully heated. When it’s ready to flip, Selengut uses an upside-down spatula to gently pry the fillet away from the grate; if it doesn’t come up, it’s not ready to be flipped.

To measure cooking times, Selengut uses a digital thermometer. “If you want it cooked through, pull it off when it’s 135 degrees in the middle of the fish, and it will continue to cook to 140,” she says. For medium-rare salmon, she pulls the fish off at 125; for tuna, many people just sear the outside and leave the inside more translucent, depending on preference.

Fertig says the overall rule is 10 minutes over a hot fire per inch of thickness. “A salmon fillet, for instance, is about 3/4-inch thick, so it would take about 7 to 8 minutes total to grill, turning it over once,” she says. “You want a hot fire because you want the fish to cook fast and not dry out.”

Cooking Crustaceans

The crustacean family, which includes shrimp, crab and lobster, can also be cooked on the grill, with shrimp (also known as prawns) being the most popular choice. “The average prawn is more meaty, with a light sweetness,” Selengut says.

When cooking shrimp, Selengut uses what she calls the “C” rule. “When you see the shrimp curl, and still see the inside of the C, when the head is meeting the tail, take it off,” she says. Two to five minutes, depending on size, is all they need until there’s some caramelization, or browning, on the outside. If the shrimp has the shell still intact, even better, as this can act as a protective coating to prevent overcooking and seal in the flavor.

“Shrimp are great to grill on a skewer as long as you don’t crowd them,” Fertig adds, explaining that giving them space allows them to cook evenly on all sides. “I love grilled shrimp with a Cajun spice rub.”

Selengut recommends steaming or boiling crab and lobster before throwing them on the grill.

“The most ideal way is to steam it and then put it on a hot grill and finish it there,” she says. She describes crab and lobster as having a buttery flavor, and the grill can give it a complementary smoky finish. After boiling for two to four minutes, depending on the size, crack the shells down the middle, brush the exposed meat with oil, and place the crab or lobster, meat side down, on the grill for about 10 minutes, flipping once, until the meat has a caramelized finish.

From the Briny Deep

Selengut describes the flavor of most mollusks — the hard-shelled members of the shellfish family, including clams, mussels and oysters — as mineral-like and briny, sometimes with a salty, seaweed flavor depending on the waters in which they were grown. An exception is scallops, which she says take on a sweeter flavor similar to that of shrimp. 

Although mollusks are more frequently cooked on the stovetop (or in the case of oysters, served raw), Fertig says that grilling can seal in more flavor. “Mussels, clams and oysters are great on the grill,” she says. “They take on a lovely, somewhat smoky flavor, and all you need to finish it with is a flavored butter.”

When it comes to grilling, Fertig says you’ll need the grill to be very hot to allow the shells to open while they cook. “Arrange them on the grill grates or in disposable aluminum baking pans that will fit on your grill,” she explains. “Make sure you throw away any opened mussels or oysters before you grill and discard any that haven’t opened after grilling.” Mix garlic and/or herbs into butter, melt and drizzle over the finished product.

Scallops are sold already shelled. With their meatier flesh, they take well to the grill (as long as you follow Selengut’s tips for clean grilling); they’re best cooked to medium rare, just about one or two minutes per side, depending on the size. “Large scallops are luscious grilled,” Fertig adds. She likes to plate scallops with dollops of flavored butter around them.

ET Recipes

Grilled Salmon with Watercress

1⁄2 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp mayonnaise 
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp chopped fresh dill 
1 small clove garlic, minced
2-3 shakes of your favorite hot sauce
1 pound coho or Chinook salmon
fillet, skin on, pin bones removed, cut into 4 equal portions
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches watercress
2 cups rye croutons*
1⁄4 cup purple sauerkraut (or use 
any favorite sauerkraut)

1. Preheat a grill over high heat. (Make sure the grates are clean and oiled.) 
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, mustard, dill, garlic and hot sauce. Set aside. 
3. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and grill (with the lid down), skin side down, for 7–10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 120°F for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. 
4. Toss the watercress with half of the dressing. Mound the salad onto plates or a platter and top with the salmon. Garnish with the rye croutons and sauerkraut. Serve with extra dressing on the side. 

*Make rye croutons by tossing 1⁄2-inch cubes of rye bread with 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt; bake in a 350°F oven for 10–15 minutes, or until crisp.

Serves 4

Soy Caramel Sauce

1⁄4 cup sake
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp (1⁄2 stick) cold 
unsalted butter

1. Place the sake, mirin, soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to maintain a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is reduced by half, 5–7 minutes.

2. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and whisk in the butter 1 tbsp at a time, adding each only after the previous one has melted. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired.

3. You can make the reduction ahead and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, finishing the sauce with the butter just prior to serving. You can also hold the sauce for about 2 hours in a thermos: preheat a thermos by filling it with boiling water for a few minutes, dump it out, and then pour in the sauce.

Yield: ½ cup

Grilled Squid with Tamarind and Orange

1 tsp minced shallot 
1 tbsp grated fresh peeled ginger
1 tbsp minced serrano chile (seed left in)
1 small orange, first zested, then juiced (about 1 tsp zest and 3 tbsp juice)
2 tsp tamarind paste (or substitute with lemon juice) 
1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
1 lb whole squid, cleaned, tentacles cut from the tubes
High-heat vegetable oil, for oiling the grill
1 tsp minced fresh mint, for garnish
Maldon or gray sea salt, for garnish (optional)

  1. In a small bowl, combine the shallot, ginger, chile orange zest, 2 tbsp of the orange juice, tamarind paste, salt and 1 tsp of the olive oil. Pour over the squid and let marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to high heat. When the grill is very hot, oil the grates well with the vegetable oil and place the squid tubes and tentacles on the grates. (You may need to do this in two batches.) Grill for a few minutes, or until you see grill marks. Flip the squid and grill for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer the grilled squid to a platter and repeat with the remaining squid pieces.
  3. To serve, lay the grilled squid out on a small platter and drizzle with the remaining tablespoons of olive oil and orange juice. Garnish with mint and Maldon salt.

Serves 4

Anchovy-Almond Salsa Verde

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄3 cup roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley (stems are fine) 
2 canned or jarred anchovies
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp capers
1⁄2 tbsp raisins
6 whole almonds
1⁄4 tsp red pepper flakes 
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend to a smooth puree.

ALL RECIPES ©2018 BY BECKY SELENGUT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. EXCERPTED FROM GOOD FISH BY PERMISSION OF SASQUATCH BOOKS.

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