Want a surefire grilled fish recipe? This smoky sea bass with a four-ingredient sauce is it

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – There are recipes and cooking techniques that almost always elicit a cocked eyebrow from some readers. Anything deep fried is one. Cooking fish is another, especially grilling fish.

And that is a shame because fish fresh off the grill – with that bit of sear and smoky flavour- is simply delicious.

“Grilling fish gets a bad rap. Not because it’s not good, but because it’s perceived to be difficult,” Mike Lang writes in his new cookbook.

A 25-year career police officer who lives in Dayton, Ohio, Lang got started in food writing in the mid-2000s when he launched a blog called Another Pint Please to chronicle his home-brewing hobby. It expanded to include outdoor cooking and gathered readers, which led to a corporate sponsorship and now to his first cookbook.

It took him about seven months to write and photograph the cookbook with many of the recipes growing out of ones he had published on his blog. The premise behind the cookbook is that you can have your food grilled and ready to eat “before you finish your first drink .”

Not every recipe in the cookbook is quite that fast, but many are, especially his simple recipe for a grilled fish fillet paired with a four-ingredient dill sauce. I added his grilled zucchini slices to the grill about halfway through the fish’s cooking time and dinner was on the table in about 35 minutes. (It will take you a bit longer if you have a charcoal rather than a gas grill.)

Lang gets why fish strike fear in the hearts of some grillers. “You take a burger or steak off the grill, and it is a pretty simple process,” he said. “With fish, any number of things could potentially go wrong, especially if you’re going to flip the fish.”

Grilled fish with dill sauce and zucchini. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Among the most common issues is that the fish may stick to the grill. (Ask me about the time I ended up awkwardly slipping two spatulas under an overcooked fillet to lift it off and still lost a quarter of the fish to hot coals below.)

For those new to grilling fish fillets, Lang has recommendations for success:

– Choose a thicker, meatier fish, such as a Chilean sea bass, cod or salmon. The more substantial the fish, the firmer it will be. “For grilled fish, I always gravitate toward the Chilean sea bass because it is oily and buttery,” Lang said. “A large fillet will be more forgiving. If you get a snapper that is really thin, you’ve got a much shorter window of cooking time.”

– Clean your grill grate well. Stuck-on bits of food are one of the biggest reasons that fish stick, Lang said.

– Preheat your grill and grate – at least 15 minutes for a gas grill and about 20 for a charcoal – before you start cooking. Lang said when he is grilling fish on a workday, he turns on the grill before he even walks into the house at the end of the day.

– Brush the fish with oil on both sides. “Oil helps seasonings bind to the protein and the oil helps it sear.”

Once the fish has seared it should easily release from the hot grate. “If you feel resistance, give it 30 seconds or a minute more.” Flip the fish only one time. “Every time you turn fish, you create a new possibility for difficulty, for sticking,” he said.

Grill the fish longer on the first side and allow it to develop a sear and crust. And if you are grilling with the lid closed – and he recommends that you do – the second side will partially cook while the first side is on the grate, so it needs less time on the heat.

– Check to see if the fish is done before moving it again. Use the edge of a knife or a fork to determine if the fish is opaque throughout and easily flakes. If you have an instant-read thermometer you can test the fish. It should have an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees.

Then there is Lang’s “super cheat,” which is to grill fish on top of a cedar or hickory plank. He grills one side of the plank over direct medium heat until it starts to smolder, about one to two minutes.

Then, he places the fish on the burned side of the plank, skin-side down, and he might top with a little salt, pepper, lemon slices and fresh dill. Afterwards, he moves the fish to indirect heat – that is away from the hottest coals – closes the grill and allows the fish to cook until it is flaky.

“Then, you pull the whole thing off and serve the fish from the plank,” he said.

He recommends that home cooks not bother with marinades for fish, which work to break down the structure of the fillet. Instead, he said, brush the fish with oil, lightly season it and make a quick sauce to go on the fish tableside.

GRILLED FISH WITH DILL SAUCE AND ZUCCHINI

35 minutes

2 servings

Here, we’ve paired the Chilean sea bass with zucchini, which can be grilled simultaneously.

Make Ahead: The sauce can be made up to one day in advance.

Storage Notes: Leftover fish can be refrigerated for up to two days. Leftover zucchini and sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days.

NOTE: To prepare the grill: If using a gas grill, set it to 350 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, fill a chimney starter with charcoal, light it and when the coals are red hot, pour them into the grill. Add more charcoal. When all the coals have ashed over and are gray but are still very hot, about 15 minutes, your grill should be medium-hot. (Use a grill thermometer or test the heat by holding your hand, palm-down about five inches from the grill. If you can hold it there for four to five seconds, the heat should be at medium heat, or 350 to 450 degrees.)

If using charcoal, this dish may take about 15 minutes longer to prepare.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SAUCE

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill, plus extra fronds for serving, if using

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

FOR THE FISH

1 Chilean sea bass fillet (about 1 pound)

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

FOR THE ZUCCHINI

2 zucchini (about 1 pound total), trimmed, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Prepare a grill for direct medium heat (350 to 450 degrees; see NOTE).

Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, dill, lemon juice and salt; set aside.

Make the fish: Brush or rub the fish on both sides with olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Make the zucchini: Brush the zucchini with olive oil and season with oregano, salt and black pepper.

Starting flesh-side down if skin-on, grill the fish over direct heat until the flesh begins to flake and is cooked through, approximately 10 to 12 minutes, using a spatula to flip once after seven minutes. If the fish sticks when you start to flip it, leave it in place for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, and try again.

After flipping the fish, add the zucchini to the grill and cook over direct heat until charred and softened, five to six minutes, flipping once midway through cooking.

Place the zucchini and fish on a serving platter, spoon some of the sauce on top of the fish or serve it on the side. Sprinkle fresh dill fronds on top of the fish, if using. Serve with additional sauce and lemon wedges on the side.

Nutrition per serving (1/2 of the fish fillet and 4 slices of zucchini) | Calories: 445; Total Fat: 24g; Saturated Fat: 9g; Cholesterol: 123mg; Sodium: 913mg; Carbohydrates: 10g; Dietary fiber: 3g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 49g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.