KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: "Grilling" Fish Inside Your Kitchen
Bay Area Bites: culinary rants & raves from bay area foodies and professionals
Previous Posts
The Old Clam House
Cook by the Book: Impress for Less!
Mariquita Farm Mystery Box
Peach Advice.
The Art of Consumption: Arthur Huang & Mary V. Mar...
Eat This: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet
Blue Cheese and Chocolate
Cook by the Book: Fish Forever
Quest: Napa Wineries Face Global Warming
BAB Guidelines

'Bay Area Bites' is part of KQED's Blog Authors Collaborative. Blog contributors and commentators are solely responsible for their content. If you're interested in writing or contributing to a blog on kqed.org, email us with your idea.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
"Grilling" Fish Inside Your Kitchen

My first summer in San Francisco, I bought a little Weber and installed it on my fire escape. Within two minutes of lighting its inaugural pile of charcoal, I answered my doorbell to find an irate neighbor pointing at the flames and reminding me that all the houses in our neighborhood were constructed of wood. My poor Smokey Joe was instantly retired. Since then, I've explored various safer ways to char my food and finally, after quite a few years, settled on a system that actually works.

After dismissing stovetop options, such as grill pans and an aluminum rack on legs that I dug up in the back aisle of Soko Hardware, I finally cobbled together a simple setup.

I had a gas stove from the 80s with a broiler drawer at the bottom. (It was pristine the first time I opened it; the previous inhabitants hadn't used it once!) Unfortunately, I could never get enough heat to sear and finish food with that unique texture and flavor that comes from the direct heat of a hot, dry flame. Everything steamed and soaked in its own juices, and my food always left a mess that was a pain to scrub away.

Two things changed that:

1) Replacing the wimpy grill pan that came with the stove. I bought the biggest, heaviest searing grill that I could find. The ones that stretch across two burners and have a grease well are perfect. I splurged on a Dacor searing grill, but there are plenty others that will work.

2) Following Linda Carucci's advice and keeping the door of the broiler open an inch or so. This helps the steam escape to maintain dry heat.

As you can see from the photo, even whole fish grills up crisp and clean. It's essential to preheat the searing grill until smoking hot. The first few times you use it, be sure to brush it lightly with peanut or grapeseed oil (you'll need the high-smoke point!). As the grill becomes seasoned though, the oil in the marinades and moist rubs is enough to lift food off easily. I can now confidently follow summer recipes throughout the year while keeping my fire escape free of flames.

For the other half of grilling fish in the city, here's a quick primer on buying the freshest fish possible...


Visit a quality fishmonger. New May Wah on Clement and 8th Ave, Bryan's on California St., Shogun Fish at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Berkeley Bowl, 99 Ranch and Whole Foods are a few of the places I'd recommend, but the best thing to do is look for a good store near you and then cultivate a relationship with the folks behind the counter.

Ask friendly questions, such as their advice about the freshest fish of the day, how it was caught and how they like to prepare it. After a few visits, you'll figure out if they know what they're talking about. Best of all, you'll become one of those favorite regulars who receive the best of the counter. Any quality vendor appreciates curious customers who are looking for good products. (Be prepared for brusque service at the Asian fish counters, though. I hate to admit it, but customer service isn't their forte. Super-fresh fish for the fearless, on the other hand, they have covered.)

When you walk into a new place, look for lots of ice for the whole fish and metal trays for the fillets and steaks. Needless to say, you should immediately leave any place that smells of rotten fish. A wall of tanks filled with lively fish swimming in clear, bubbling water is at the top of my own list, since I often point at the exact fish I want netted. Little signs that indicate origin and the method of catching are helpful for those who are trying to eat within a sustainable seafood system.


On whole fish, don't be afraid to lift the gills to check for red blood. Avoid any fish with dry, browned gills. Then press your forefinger into the thickest part of the fish's flank to watch its flesh spring back out, quick and firm. Wet, moist tail and fins are good; dry, brittle ones are bad. Clear, shiny, rounded eyes are another good indicator of fresh fish, although sometimes the ice can damage them, so it shouldn't be the only thing on your list. Sniff for an odor of ocean. It's okay to get a noseful of "pier perfume," but there should be no hint of decay or any strong "fishiness" that reveals too many days out of the water.

If you're buying fillets, the touch and smell tests are the best. Even cut flesh will spring back. You shouldn't be able to see a depression where your finger was. The longer your fingerprint lingers, the older the fish. Sliminess is another sure sign that you should move on to the next fish or choose chicken for dinner. Whole fish will have a natural shine and slipperiness -- the scales dull and loosen as the fish ages out of water -- but cut flesh should not feel slick.

If the fish is protected behind glass cases, I make a point of asking the person helping me to poke the fish for me or to bring it out so I can perform my own touch and sniff tests. No, I don't mind people behind me sighing, rolling their eyes or muttering under their breaths.

Sometimes, though, the best fish is in the freezer. A fish that's expertly frozen within hours of leaving its watery home is much, much better in quality than a so-called fresh fish that's taken almost a week to get from boat to market.

After going through all that trouble tracking down and identifying a good fish, don't bother waiting a couple of days to cook it. Plan on buying, cooking and eating your fish the same day or, at the most, within a day of finding it.


Here are some tips for handling whole fish:

If you're not comfortable gutting and scaling a whole fish (that's another whole entry in itself...) then make it easy on yourself and ask the fishmonger to clean the fish for you. What you want is simply a dressed fish: gutted and scaled but with its head, fins and tail intact.

Get back home quickly, or plan to bring a cooler or insulated bag with you. I often ask the fishmonger to put the fish, after weighing it, into another bag with some ice. No market has ever refused to do this, and they may have a ice pack or two that they're happy to pass along.

When you unwrap the fish in your own kitchen, take care with the tail and fins. They sometimes have sharp ends that can poke or cut your hand.

With any fish that's more than two inches thick, cut three slits at an angle into each side of the fish to allow the heat to penetrate to the center. I like to fill the belly cavity with aromatics -- say scallions and lemon slices or big handfuls of fennel fronds -- in order to maintain its rounded shape at the table. A few toothpicks soaked in water will keep the belly flaps together.

Here's an old trick for creating a "nonstick" grill rack: Cut a big, starchy potato in half. Stick the potato halves onto a big fork. Be sure the grill rack is clean and free of burnt food remains. Once the preheated grill rack is hot, rub it well with the cut side of the potato halves. The instantly seared layer of starch will create a surface which will release the fish more readily, especially if you have a brand-new, shiny grill.

For every inch of thickness, allow ten minutes to cook the fish. It will vary slightly either way, but this is a good baseline for figuring out cooking times. Once the fish flakes easily close to the bone, it's ready for eating. I prefer undercooking to any amount of overcooking, but you should cook the fish to the point that you enjoy. With the variation in size and species, the best way to test for flake is with the tip of a paring knife.

Use two wide spatulas to roll the fish gently when it's ready to turn. Be sure there are enough hot coals beneath the area where the second side will cook. Brush the fish lightly with oil before turning it.

Wrapping a fish in soaked banana leaves will make the fish easier to turn and remove. You'll lose that nice char but will gain a wonderful smoky flavor while retaining lots of moisture. Plan for a longer cooking time.

If you have a pizza peel or one of those thin cookie sheets, especially one with a tapered edge, then you can scoop up the whole fish with little effort. Otherwise, use those two wide spatulas and have the platter as close to the fish as possible.


This is a recipe that I've adapted from my uncles in Vietnam. Whenever I visited, they'd chop down a young banana tree to create an impromptu grill. Two logs of the juicy trunk supported split bamboo skewers, and everything from the family chicken to sweet field mice ended up coated with this spicy, savory rub.

I have an Indian-style mixie which makes it a lot easier to blend the hard lemongrass with minimal liquid. If you have a regular blender, plan on chopping the ingredients more finely and then adding a bit more oil and/or wine to help the blades do their thing.

Chop roughly:
A big knob of ginger, peeled
The pale half of 4 stalks of lemon grass
3 large cloves of moist, plump garlic
2-4 red Thai chiles, seeded or not as you wish
A small knob of fresh turmeric (or a half teaspoon of powdered turmeric)

Have ready 3-4 tablespoons each:
Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
Vegetable oil

Combine the aromatic, dry ingredients in the jar of a blender. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the rice wine and oil. Blend to a smooth paste, adding more liquid and scraping down as needed. Rub evenly onto fish, chicken, beef, pork or pressed tofu. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Grill or broil the meat or tofu with high, direct heat, brushing lightly with additional oil.

Labels: , , , ,



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Locate CP Restaurants:
Check, Please! Google Map
KQED Food Sites
Check, Please! Bay Area
Jacques Pépin Celebrates!
Jacques Pépin:
Fast Food My Way
Jacques Pépin:
The Apprentice
Jacques Pépin:
The Complete Pépin
KQED Wine Club
KQED.org Cooking
Weir Cooking in the City
Tasty Food Sites
Chowhound SF
Eat Local Challenge
Edible San Francisco
Food Network
Food Talk
Group Recipes
Hungry Magazine
Leite's Culinaria
Mighty Foods
NPR: Food
Om Organics
Serious Eats
SFGate: Food
SFGate: Wine
SF Station: Restaurants
Slow Food SF
Top Chef
Wikimedia Commons: Food & Drink
Yahoo! Food
Yelp: Reviews
Tangy Food Blogs
101 Cookbooks
A Full Belly
Accidental Hedonist
An Obsession with Food
Anna's Cool Finds
Becks & Posh
Between Meals
Bunny Foot
Butter Pig
Cellar Rat
Chez Pim
Chocolate & Zucchini
Confessions of a
Restaurant Whore
Cooking For Engineers
Cooking with Amy
Cucina Testa Rossa
Culinary Muse
Denise's Kitchen
Eater SF
Feed & Supply
Food Blog S'cool
Food Musings
Food Porn Watch
I'm Mad and I Eat
In Praise of Sardines
Knife's Edge
Life Begins at 30
Love and Cooking
Mental Masala
Moveable Feast
Organic Day
Passionate Eater
San Francisco Gourmet
SF City Eats
Simply Recipes
The Amateur Gourmet
The Ethicurean
The Food Section
The Grub Report
The Petite Pig
The Wine Makers Wife
Vin Divine
Wandering Spoon
Well Fed Network
Word Eater
World on a Plate
Yummy Chow
Search BAB

Eye Candy: Food Photos
BAB on flickr.com
Join Flickr for free and share your photos with the Bay Area Bites and Beyond group pool.
Food Books
The Moosewood Cookbook
by Mollie Katzen
Baking: From My Home to Yours
by Dorie Greenspan
Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries
by Alain Ducasse, Frederic Robertmison
The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking and Entertaining
by Cheryl Alters Jamison, Bill Jamison
Tasty: Get Great Food on the Table Every Day
by Roy Finamore
Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way
by Lorna Sass
The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa
by Marcus Samuelsson
Michael Mina: The Cookbook
by Michael Mina, Photographer: Karl Petzktle
What to Eat
by Marion Nestle
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
by John Scharffenberger, Robert Steinberg
Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo
by Alan Tardi
What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea -- Even Water -- Based on Expert Advice from America's Best Sommeliers
by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, Michael Sofronski
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners
by Matt Lee, Ted Lee
Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
by Andrew Whitley
Coloring the Seasons: A Cook's Guide
by Allegra McEvedy
All-new Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
by Anne C. Cain
Modern Garde Manger
by Robert B. Garlough
The Spice and Herb Bible
by Ian Hemphill, Kate Hemphill
The Improvisational Cook
by Sally Schneider
Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
by Ann Cooper, Lisa M. Holmes
Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia
by James Oseland
My Life in France
by Julia Child, Alex Prud'Homme
A Passion for Ice Cream: 95 Recipes for Fabulous Desserts
by Emily Luchett, Sheri Giblin (photographer)
Au Pied De Cochon -- The Album
by Martin Picard
Memories of Philippine Kitchens
by Amy Besa, Romy Dorotan
Simple Chinese Cooking
by Kylie Kwong
An Invitation to Indian Cooking
by Madhur Jaffrey
Hungry Planet
by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio
Sunday Suppers at Lucques : Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table
by Suzanne Goin, Teri Gelber
Simple Soirees: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties
by Peggy Knickerbocker, Christopher Hirsheimer (Photographer)
The Cook's Book
by Jill Norman
Molto Italiano : 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home
by Mario Batali
Nobu Now
by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa
Cheese : A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best
by Max Mccalman, David Gibbons
Bones : Recipes, History, and Lore
by Jennifer McLagan
Whiskey : The Definitive World Guide
by Michael Jackson
The New American Cooking
by Joan Nathan
by Lisa Yockelson
Easy Entertaining: Everything You Need to Know About Having Parties at Home
by Darina Allen
Cooking at De Gustibus: Celebrating 25 Years of Culinary Innovation
by Arlene Feltman Sailhac
Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads
by Richard Bertinet
Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor
by Michael Recchiuti, Fran Gage, Maren Caruso
The Food Substitutions Bible: More Than 5,000 Substitutions for Ingredients, Equipment And Techniques
by David Joachim
Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook
by Susan Spungen
Spices of Life: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health
by Nina Simonds
Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent
by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light
by Mort Rosenblum
Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks
by Barbara Kafka, Christopher Styler
A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
by Thomas Pinney
Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years Of Food And Art
by Tom Gilliland, Miguel Ravago, Virginia B. Wood
Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South
by Marcie Cohen Ferris
Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen
by Elizabeth Andoh, Leigh Beisch
Weir Cooking in the City: More than 125 Recipes and Inspiring Ideas for Relaxed Entertaining
by Joanne Weir
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood
by Rick Stein
The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
by Beatrice A. Ojakangas
Serena, Food & Stories: Feeding Friends Every Hour of the Day
by Serena Bass
John Ash: Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher
by John Ash
The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook: Eating Well for Better Health
by Donald Hensrud, M.D., Jennifer Nelson, R.D. & Mayo Clinic Staff
Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions
by Fernando and Marlene Divina
The Provence Cookbook
by Patricia Wells
Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World
by Gil Marks
Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World
by Gina Mallet
by Thomas Keller
A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World
by Maggie Glezer
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
by Molly Stevens
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
by Harold McGee
Entertaining: Inspired Menus For Cooking with Family and Friends
by George Dolese
The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore
by Grace Young, Alan Richardson
Cooking New American: How to Cook the Food You Love to Eat
by Fine Cooking Magazine
The Japanese Kitchen: A Book of Essential Ingredients with 200 Authentic Recipes
by Kimiko Barber
Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes
by Arthur Schwartz
Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher
by Joan Reardon
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes
by Jeffrey Hamelman
Everyday Dining with Wine
by Andrea Immer
Copyright © 2005-2008 KQED. All rights reserved.