Friday, July 15, 2011

Still Grilling

by Sheila Connolly

What can I say?  It's summer, and it's hot.  Kinda makes you feel like not cooking at all, right?  This week I've eaten microwaved bacon and ice cream for dinner (not mixed together), and another night I ordered my daughter to bring home sushi.

But there are recipes that minimize the heat (and, no, they're not all for ice cream!).  I'm going to give you my go-to fish recipe, which can be cooked in a low oven or on the grill.

First let's talk about fish.  As I've probably said before, I live twenty miles from the ocean and I still can't get decent fresh fish (at least, not without getting into a boat myself).  But I like to eat fish, as I learned at my father's knee, and we all know it's good for us, so I persevere at the supermarket.  Ours has a nice small fish department, and I spend enough time there that the lady behind the counter chats with me.  I know, most of the fish has been flown in from somewhere and/or flash frozen on a ship.  That's where things get tricky.  I've cooked some "previously frozen" white fish that turned to mush the minute it hit the pan.  Other meaty white fishes like cod and haddock hold up better.  But in my household our favorite fish is salmon.

I know, I know--farmraised salmon is no better for us than...what?  It's no doubt been pumped full of hormones to grow large and fast, and antibiotics, and food filled with who knows what (just like our beef and our chicken and...).  But it's affordable (compared to the wild salmon) and it's tasty, and it holds up well to cooking.  We've got to eat something, right?

So I'll give you a secret (that I learned some years ago from our local newspaper) for a foolproof and relatively cool way to cook fish, particularly salmon:  use a low oven, with a tray filled with boiling water under it.  Really.  It works. 

Use whatever fish filets you prefer, and marinate them if you like (more on that below).  At the very least season them with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Take a pan (a 9" round or square baking pan works well) and set it on an oven rack below the one that will hold the fish.  Fill the pan with boiling water, then shut the oven door and let the steam circulate a bit.  Put your fish (skin side down, if there is skin) on another pan (line it with foil if you don't feel like cleaning up), preferably a broiler pan so the heat will circulate around the fish, and put the pan into the oven on the upper shelf.  Cook for approximately 20 minutes (time will vary according to how thick your filets are).  Presto:  a tender, moist fish that's almost impossible to overcook, and you didn't heat up the kitchen!

One-pound filet of farm-raised salmon

The marinade:  This one's going to start out looking a lot like my last marinade recipe, but it's different, really.  It works very well with a strong-flavored fish such as salmon.
The usual suspects
olive oil
soy sauce
minced or pressed garlic
salt and pepper, and
whole grain mustard!

The amounts of each will vary according to how much fish you need to cover, and how much you like the components. Mix these together and massage it all over your filets and let them  marinate as long as you like (a few hours is fine).

Whole-grain mustard
A note about the mustard:  For the first decades of my life I had no idea that mustard was anything other than that bright yellow stuff in a jar, and I didn't like it.  Then I went to France and met the classic Moutard de Meaux, and I fell in love.  It comes in wonderful large earthenware jars (that make great pencil holders).  But it's expensive.  In recent years the variety of mustards available in most stores has expanded greatly, but all whole grain mustards are not alike.  I prefer the Maille brand, because the grains remain fairly intact and give a faint crunch to the marinade, kind of like caviar (ha!).  Grey Poupon makes one too, but it's creamier.  It's up to you.  But I don't think the usual creamy mustard, whoever makes it, would work anywhere near as well for the marinade.

Marinated and ready to cook
Finally, if you insist on grilling your fish...  It's tricky, isn't it?  Fish is delicate, and if it sticks to your grill you end up scraping up a lot of shreds.  But a few years ago I found the answer: it's a grilling pan that's perforated to let heat and smoke circulate, with handles for easy lifting, and it fits neatly inside my Weber grill.  I usually cover the grill when cooking fish; otherwise it cooks far too fast, and mostly likely overcooks if your fire is hot.  If you want to vary the flavor, you can add different wood chips (ideally presoaked in water) to the fire, place the fish on the grill, and close the cover.  However, in my experience, the flavor of the chips (hickory, mesquite, etc.) kind of overpowers the fish, so I usually stick to the marinade.


  1. There is more shame in serving an over cooked piece of fish than using a remote prob temperature prob. Especially since salmon is so thick, very easy to use the probe. Internal temp should only be 135 degrees at the thickest point.

    But I digress... spot on with the mustard talk. Quality (and unfortunately cost) does indeed make a difference. That photo with the spoon showing the thickness of your choice is terrific. easier to thin with the soy sauce.

    So... great post!

  2. Summertime grilling is the best!

  3. Low temp in the oven with water? Interesting. I will give this a shot the next time I bake fish. I tend to lean to a very hot oven for meats but fish is so delicate.

    I know what you and Dave mean about the mustard. I have three in the fridge right now. My preference is for mustard with horseradish.

    ~ Krista

  4. Thanks for these tips, Sheila! We love salmon and are always seeking new ways to cook it.

    I also feel strongly about quality mustard.

  5. You hooked me at "you don't even have to heat up the kitchen!" :)

    We're trying to eat more fish over here, so I appreciate your fish tips, Sheila!