Grilled Fish

Grilling has become the preferred method of cooking fish in the Lowcountry. A light sprinkling of salt, pepper, and olive oil is often the best preparation for grilling most fish—whether whole, steaks, or fillets. Ten minutes of cooking per inch of fish is still a good rule of thumb, but the best guideline is to remove the fish from the grill as soon as the flesh flakes moistly when pried lightly with a fork. Nearly all of our pelagic species of fish grill nicely—marlin, swordfish, king mackerel, dolphin, wahoo, and tuna—but it’s best to purchase all fish according to current fish conservation guidelines. The oily flesh of bluefish takes to the coals well, as does shark. Fish over three pounds—say, a sea trout (the southern form of weakfish) or a channel bass (also known as redfish or drum)—grill beautifully when left unsealed. The scales form a seal, and the flesh steams perfectly. The scales come off all at once with the skin to reveal delicate steamed flesh. You can stuff the inside of a fish with sliced fresh ginger or with fresh fennel stalks. You can sprinkle it with lemon juice. Or you can wrap it in banana leaves before you grill it, to impart a tealike flavor. Sometimes I soak shark in buttermilk, and I nearly always marinate king mackerel steaks in lime juice before grilling. Buttery whole pompano are grilled slowly, then served with a piquant green tomato relish. A few frozen cubes of fish stock can be tossed into a frying pan and reduced, then a few dabs of butter whisked in to make a sauce for a nonoily grilled fish. Oily fish are enhanced by a few shrimp simmered briefly in the sweet and sour peach and coconut chutney.