When the weather permits, there are few finer things than having friends over for a BBQ on the back lawn. Of course, while burgers and sausages are delicious, they can get a little bit samey, especially if you want to show off to the neighbours. That’s why we have decided to start a little guide to cooking some of the trickier and more unusual things on the barbie… beginning with fish.
There’s something wonderfully primal about grilling fish outdoors on an open fire, especially if you’re cooking up something that you caught yourself. Despite the joys of barbecuing fish, it is a food that has a reputation to be difficult to cook on charcoal, to the point that many people avoid doing so as they think they might mess it up. This worry is compounded by the fact that fish is usually more expensive than other BBQ foods.
Well, if this sounds like you then follow these simple tips, and your next garden gathering is sure to be a roaring success.
As any fishmonger will tell you, the most important thing to look for when buying fish is freshness, and this is especially true when it comes to grilling fish on a BBQ. Ideally, you will want to BBQ fish the same day you purchase it. While it is possible to cook thawed frozen fish it is more likely to fall apart so that is something to watch out for. Other than this factor, the optimum way to cook a fish on a BBQ will depend on its type.
Fish with more robust flesh like tuna and salmon are relatively easy to grill and can be cooked in a similar manner as to how you would cook a steak on the BBQ. Whether you’re cooking fillets or whole fish you can chuck them straight onto the grill, on a medium to high heat, providing you’ve pre-heated the grill — this prevents the fish from sticking and falling apart when you come to remove it.
Remove your fish from the fridge about 10 minutes before you want to use it, this gives it some time to warm up to room temperature, again to prevent it from sticking. Generously season the fillet, or whole fish, with salt, pepper and any herbs you might be using before rubbing it with oil.
If cooking fillets, then add skin-side-down first — turning the fish over only once the skin is golden. This firms up the flesh and reduces the chance of it falling apart on the grill.
You’ll know your fish is ready when it passes the flake test, which is when you can use a fork to easily pull apart a piece of the fish and it naturally breaks into flakes. If the middlemost part of the fish is hot and the colour has completely changed throughout, it’s time to plate up.
Whole fish can be cooked in the same way. Once gutted and scaled, cut a series of deep diagonal slices along either side of the fish, to help it cook more evenly. The cavities also make a great place to stuff herbs and other seasoning to lock in flavour.
Delicate varieties of fish like sea bass and mackerel are harder to cook. The flesh is more tender and therefore more likely to fall apart or, worse yet, drop through the grill straight into the fire.
To avoid this happening, we recommend cooking these fish in parcels. You can use either tinfoil, or as Jamie Oliver suggests soaking wet newspaper. The wonderful thing about cooking fish in parcels on the barbecue is that you can cater each one to a guest’s request. Simply ask each person what preferences of oil/butter they have, which seasoning, citrus fruits, and other accompaniments they’d like in the parcel. Then it’s simply a case of wrapping each fish up and cooking it directly on the grill until it’s cooked through.
Prawns, scallops, and squid develop a delicious smoky flavour from charcoal grills, and the easiest way to cook them is by placing them on skewers. However, prawns can cook in as little as three minutes on a hot grill, so you need to keep an extra close eye on shellfish when you cook it, or it will quickly become rubbery and unappetising.
We recommend leaving shellfish in a marinade of your choice for around 20 minutes before placing it on the grill. Don’t forget that you can also cook vegetables such as peppers, courgette, and cherry tomatoes on the skewers at the same time to make healthy kebabs.
What’s your favourite thing to cook on the grill?
Are you a pro when it comes to cooking up fish on the BBQ? If so, what are your top tips? We’d love to hear them in the comments. Also, is there any food you’ve always wanted to try cooking on the grill but haven’t quite plucked up the courage? Let us know and you might see it in the next BBQ Chef article.