Grilling 105: Fish, Vegetables, and Fruit? Really?

I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t burn charcoal, clean grills, and stand in front of a fire on a hot day, so that I can grill vegetables. But I also can’t tell you that grilled vegetables, at least some vegetables, are approximately 200 times better than their steam or boiled equivalents. And fish…well, fish depends.

But let’s get to the tips right away.

Vegetables don’t slow cook on a grill. They brown and blister. You need to cut them about as thick as a thriving magazine, like Every Day With Rachael Ray or Esquire. You need to oil them, because oil makes them blister quickly, and helps keep them from sticking. And you need to salt them liberally with kosher salt, because you need to sprinkle everything with kosher salt that you plan on putting in a grill. I’m not kidding. I can’t think of a single food I have grilled without salting first. Well, there is one thing. And that is a peach.

The same goes for fruits. Most grilled fruit is a disaster. Grilled pipeapple is a wet mess. Grilled pear or apples just aren’t good. But you know what is good? Grilled peaches. It’s summer, so getting sweet peaches shouldn’t be a problem. Even if you live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, you can always get the Chilean ones. Cut them into thick wedges, find a hot but not crazy part of the grill.just sear them quickly: the only evidence of heat should be hot grill marks. All you are doing with grill here is caramelizing the surface, which was already sweet anyway, and then warming the rest, because warm things have more flavor than cold things. I have this for dessert, with a scoop of ice cream. You can’t beat it. You really can’t.

Fish is hard for even an expert cooker. Animals are all pretty much the same, once they are cut up into pieces. Look at a rib lamb chop, a rib pork chop, and a bone-on ribeye steak sometime. You are looking at the same part, performing the same function, in pretty much the same animal. The difference between a trout or sea bass vs. a greasy creature like a mackerel or salmon is enormous. Then you can add in the meat-like fishes, whose densely muscular bodies so resemble steak: tuna, swordfish, etc. They all cook at different rates and respond to hot fire in different ways. The best that I can do in advising you here is to do the following.

  • Don’t plan ahead what fish you want to cook. Go to a good seafood store, if you have one, or failing that the best grocery store in town. Ask the man what is best, and buy that. (I actually have never taken this advice, but I know I should.)
  • Big fishes should be cut up into thick steaks, and their skin should always be left on. Crispy salmon skill is one of the great delicacies, I think. Smaller, lighter, and / or flakier fishes need to be cooked whole. All kinds of fishes need quick, hot cooking.
  • Oil, salt….You’ve heard this one before.
  • An oily fish like a mackerel or sardines are going to tend to cause flares, given their tendency to drip melting fat onto open fires. This is actually a good thing, because the faster the heat blast, the less likely you are to burn the meat. That is assuming that you like your salmon steaks medium rare, like I do.
  • You don’t need to only use olive oil to flavor the surface; I’ve used everything from iberico ham and bacon grease to chile-infused grapeseed or peanut oil. It wouldn’t hurt to shutp whole fishes with springs of fresh rosemary and thyme and garlic. And of course, any kind of crispy browned fish needs oil squeezed over it at the end,

The stickiness factor.  Whether you are cooking fruits, vegetables, or fish, is that you are really going to need a clean grill. It needs to be scrubbed hard, and then lubricated either with oil or some kind of weird product like Pam.

If I had to sum up all my advice on cooking fish, vegetables and fruit, it would basically boil down to this: use a medium-hot fire, clean grates, and cut it into the right size pieces to keep it from drying out. One of these days I’m going to make a serious effort to do all these things. But right now I just want a hamburger.

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