Barbecues are often all about the meat, but our columnist has some top suggestions for delicious fish and seafood alternatives.
Summer is here and a million little cooking fires will no doubt be lit countrywide, with a large beard of delicious wood smoke climbing high into the summer sky. However, I imagine the majority of people won’t be cooking fish, so here’s a few tips to help you step away from the sausage and opt for the squid instead:
1. We tend to start cooking our food far too soon after lighting the charcoal. So, banish the concept of ‘flame-grilled’ and of grey-orange glowing charcoals being desirable. Instead, let the coals burn down first, then cook your food at least five inches away from them. This is especially the case with oily fish such as mackerel, whose fat could drip into a naked flame. Don’t drizzle oil all over fish before cooking, either.
2. Wet fish on a hot grill equals sticking fish. So, wipe your whole fish completely dry with a cloth first. Then, season the skin heavily with Maldon sea salt or rock salt to keep it from sticking to the bars. Allow the skin to cook and carbonise and don’t fiddle with it too much. It can then be turned over easily.
3. If cooking a fish fillet, lay it on the grill skin-side down. When you see two fingers’ width of uncooked meat on the flesh side, roll it over for 10-15 seconds or so. This is perfect for thin cuts such as bass, red mullet and bream. If cooking thicker fillets like cod or turbot, cover them with the barbecue lid.
4. Don’t be tempted to slash fish down its flanks! While it will cook faster, it will also lose moisture and create dry areas.
5. When buying squid from a fish shop, don’t let the fishmonger scrape off the marbled, maroon skin. It tastes delicious and, when caramelised, lends a sweet-savoury toffee flavour to the meat.
6. When marinating squid, resist the urge to leave it in lemon juice as this will toughen the meat when grilled. Use lemon when serving, if necessary.
7. If grilling on the beach, wet piles of bladdewrack [a type of seaweed] or kelp can be piled around the shellfish to steam them. But, watch out – while mussels and clams will pop open directly over the heat, the smell of the warmed shell can create an unpleasant scent when cooked close to meat!