Cooking Fish & Having it Something People Rave About




OK, you say anybody can cook fish, YES, but how palatable is it?  Is your finished product something you would want to give to your boss, trying to impress him?  It seems that about everyone claims to be a backyard Bar-Be-Quer.  And it is about impossible to ruin a hot dog or hamburger unless you over-cook it into a charred mass.  And it takes practice, as your first attempt may not turn out as well as you had hoped as as with many things in life, the little things do make a difference.    


I have a friend who is excellent on his grill and when shown his spice rack, there was about nothing left on the market for him to buy, (he had it all) for beef or pork, but absolutely nothing there that would compliment fish. 


There are MANY backyard barbeques, and recently the Traeger slow cookers are becoming more common, both which produce great food. 


Fish is something different.  Now I am not trying to run down these pork/beef cookers, as they may not have been exposed to cooking fish.  And please do not think I am considering myself an expert in either phase.  Any fish should not be overcooked and can easily be ruined, or at least not as palatable as it could have been.  It may be best to remove it from the grill 30 seconds before you think it is done, better when part of the meat has a slightly translucent color, as at that temperature, it will continue cooking after you have it on the platter.


Pan Fried ; Starting with trout or small fish, they are usually pan fried.  Some will be cooked whole with the skin on, or if large enough, filleted.  They will usually only be rolled/dipped in flower or a combo of flower/cracker crumbs (finely crushed) and pan fried in a slight amount of oil until done.  Done here is usually a visual determination by the operator of the spatula.  There may be some seasoning applied (like salt or pepper).


Baked ;  Here we see the use of an oven being used, and many times the meat wrapped in aluminum foil with seasoning applied before the wrapping.


Oven Broiled ;  Here again we see the use of an oven being used, but probably not used as often as a barbeque.


Bar-Be-Qued ;  This method is one where imagination and taste buds may help to some degree when it comes to preparing and seasoning.  There are basically two types of fish we will be dealing with here.  (1) being salmon/steelhead type  (2) while white meated fish being the other type.


In any Bar-Be-Que method, cook your fish over a medium heat (350 degrees).  And you want some sort of a basting on the top of the meat, to keep it from drying out.  For seasoning, the sky is the limit here depending on your taste buds.  This could be from simply painting Mayonnaise on the upper exposed part.  Most of us like some sort of seasoning, be it simply salt and pepper or more exotic like Mrs. Dash seasoning.  In my opinion, you should not ruin the fish flavor by basting it with a Texas Bar-Be-Que style beef type seasoning.  What I am saying is to pick a milder flavor so that it enhances the fish flavor instead of over-riding it.  One old standby is simply squeezing lemon juice on it.   Here, one that we like is a light covering of Honey Mustard Bar-Be-Que sauce.


I will describe here my method of cooking filleted salmon.  If the fish are not overly large, like a 10# or so salmon, your fillets will not be overly thick (about 1").  Leave the skin on.  Heat the unit up to near 350 degrees, place the meat on the grill skin down.  Look at a clock, as about 10 minutes is your target time (depending on how often you open the lid, which will lengthen the time).  But remember that the thinner flank pieces will be done first.


My quick and dirty method of telling when it is done is when you can slip a spatula between the meat and the skin with the skin separating from the meat it is done.  Try this on the thinner pieces first.  If you can get the spatula in a bit, you may be able to slide it most of the way under while on the grill, or remove this piece of meat and place it on a platter and then totally remove the skin. Turn it upside down if need be and finish removing this skin.  If there is a somewhat slimy substance here, it needs to be put back on for another minute or two.   Now, the important thing now is UNDER this skin and above the red meat, you may find a brownish meat on some pieces.  REMOVE this brown meat with the spatula while it is still hot.  This meat is what some call fat, and it is bitter when cooked.


If there was the slimy substance (as mentioned above) and you did not remove the skin, return it to the grill.  If you took all the skin off, flop it over meat side down now.


If you let it stay on the grill overly long, skin side down, the skin will become a charred black mass that is hard to now remove from the meat without scraping/cutting it off.  And you have cooked it overly long, deteriorating the palatability.


Once you get the hang of it, you can pretty well tell when they are about ready.  Some fish are a lot more oily than others, like early summer Chinook will be oilier than the later fall Chinook, or any Coho.  The oil will come oozing out as white bubbles.


Now for the thicker pieces (over 1"), you may have to flop them over to get it completely cooked, and this prolongs the time without the skin becoming burned/stuck.  A thick piece may take up to another 10 minutes before it is done in the middle.  It however may be best, prior to placing large fillets on the grill to cut them into pieces where you have similar sizes so that you do not have to leave a large size on to get part of it done while yet overcook the thinner section.


Method two for salmon is to remove the skin AND all the dark meat under the skin which is pretty much fat that when cooked has a flavor that most people dislike.  Here use a shallow baking pan (cookie sheet) and spray it with PAM or lightly cover it with olive oil.  Mix a glaze consisting of 2 cubes of real butter, 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar, 1/8 cup of honey and 1/8 cup of lemon juice.  Bring the butter and brown sugar just to a boil and add the remaining ingredients.  Use this as a basting glaze over the meat, again at a heat near 350 degrees, cooking time will vary depending on meat thickness, but usually from 10 to 15 minutes.


White meated fish will be usually cooked about the same as mentioned in method # two.  These fish will normally be halibut or ling cod, Sturgeon, Walleye or even possibly sea bass if you live in the Pacific Northwest.  The first 4 are a mild flavor while it is my experience that sea bass have a more distinctive flavor, that may need seasoning.


The reason for basting with a glaze is to seal off and retain the natural juices in the meat and keep the top from becoming crusty.   



Canning - Freezing ;  Sometimes it seems logical if you have done a quantity more that you/your friends will consume within a day or so, to preserve your work of art. 


You could however smoke it, which is covered HERE.  


The, simplest is probably to freeze it by vacuum packing it.  The other would be to can it in a pressure canner but is more time consuming. 


One thing we have done for years is to smoke some salmon and then pressure can it.  We have found that to can it, you need to only do a hour or two or smoking to get the flavor and then finish it with an hour @ 10# pressure in the canner.


Recently we had a larger amount of fish (with some thicker pieces) and smoking was going to be demanding so I Bar-Be-Qued it and then canned it for only 15 minutes @ the 10# pressure.  I added 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a couple of split garlic cloves in the pint jar also.  The only thing we found was that with just the normal seasoning used when eating it hot off the grill, the canned meat did not have the flavor, so next time when putting it in the jars, I will add some of the Honey Mustard sauce before sealing the jars.







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Originated 05-18-2015, Last updated 06-24-2017
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