How to buy, prep, and grill fish

At our home in the suburbs, dinner was  a central event, much anticipated and consumed with the brutal efficiency of  a pillaging army. Meals were everyday fare: healthy, tasty and, because we were a family of 10, pumped out in quantities to rival a small restaurant. This level of cookery on a single income required careful budgeting by my mother, so our bread was cheap and our butter was margarine. (“Real” butter was reserved for high holidays and Dad’s poker night.) Homo milk was diluted with powdered skim, and steak was a concept as fantastical as roasted unicorn. Since even humble haddock was expensive when you had to feed the multitudes, fish was a special treat. On those rare occasions when Mom announced that she had made fish and chips for dinner, there was joy among the tribe, with much thumping of silverware.

But at the cottage, all that changed. My older brothers were eager fishermen, bringing in fresh walleye, bass, catfish,  and pike. Lots of it. We baked, broiled,  and fried fish, but we never cooked it on our grill. Not even once. I suspect that in our suburban white-bread world, grilled seafood was only found in fancy restaurants or over the fires of backyard cooks whose families and recipes came from foreign places.

Blessedly, times have changed, and grilled fish is now familiar fare. But fish does pose challenges, because the delicate flavour and texture that make it a lovely respite from burgers and bratwurst is easily ruined by overcooking. Fish also has a reputation for sticking to grill grates, which is unfair: Almost any food sticks now and then. But while you can free a chunky pork chop with some pulling and prying, a salmon steak will fall to pieces after such violence. Fortunately, sticking can be solved by matching the grilling method to the fish cut and species, and using some simple methods to avoid fish-to-grill fusion.

Here’s our complete guide.


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