May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
For most people, the idea of putting the fragile, tender flesh of fish anywhere near the powerful, searing flames of a grill seems like a good way to tempt the god of ruined dinners (Saint Takeout, perhaps).
With the expense of fresh, sustainable seafood and the time required to light a proper charcoal grill, why would anyone bother grilling seafood? "Flavor," says chef Michael Mina of Mina Group, who, along with Emeril Lagasse (yes, of "Bam!" fame), chatted about grilling seafood at this year's Vegas Uncork'd. Here, the chefs offer their best tips on how to grill spectacular seafood without leaving any flavor (or fish) behind.
"If you're scared, and you want to start out easy, get a flat grill with little slits and more actual grill surface," Mina suggests, as opposed to going straight onto the wide grates of the average home grill. "And use a spatula," he adds, rather than trying to flip that flaky fish with tongs. If you have a regular grill grate, though, he recommends placing a cast-iron pan on top of it—"If you're using charcoal, you'll still get a lot of grill flavor," he promises.
Both chefs have ideas about where to start for an easy introduction to grilling seafood. For Mina, a meaty skin-on fillet is best (think tuna, salmon or swordfish): "Grill it skin-side down for a long time and then flip it over." (Flip the fish once, when it's about 70 percent of the way cooked—the exact time will depend on the thickness of the fillet.) Lagasse, meanwhile, suggests starting with medium to large shrimp, prepared simply with olive oil and finished with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon.
Get It off the Ice
For Lagasse, the most important step comes before you even get to the grill—you need to let seafood come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking. "People never realize that they take their seafood right out of the refrigerator and throw it on a hot grill," and then complain about the result: fish sticking to the grates. "You have to bring it into the game," he says.
Get It on the Grill
Not only does Lagasse think you need to warm up your fish, he also says that you need to cool the grill down (and chill out a bit yourself). "The grill doesn't need to be stinging hot. Get the fish or shellfish to room temp and start grilling it slowly. And don't fuss with it, particularly if it's a side of fish. People do the same thing with a hamburger—they keep flipping it and messing it all around. Leave it alone. Let it cook. That's why they call it cooking."
"Put product on the fish after it comes off the grill," Mina says. Like what? "The finishing sauces are really what's important," Lagasse, who suggests chimichurri, rémoulade, ponzu vinaigrette or lemon butter, says. Or keep it simple: "The key," he says, is to hit the fish with "a little pop of sea salt and lemon just before serving."
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