Seafood Grilling Tips—Let the Flavors of the Sea Shine Through

One summer, I was ship’s cook on a yacht in the Algarve, the gorgeous southern coast of Portugal. At about 11 a.m., you would begin to smell the wood fires being started, and by midday, the cafes were in full swing. I had watched the fishing boats come in a few hours earlier. In the restaurants, whole fish were iced down, and you could choose your own fish that would then be coated in good olive oil and sea salt and not much else. It was usually served simply, with some boiled potatoes and a bit of lemon.

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity in almost any kind of seafood cookery, grilling included. But no matter how and when you grill (I’m a die-hard and grill pretty much year-round), be sure that your seafood is as fresh as can be. Your eyes and nose are the best tools for choosing good fish. There should be absolutely no fishy smell—you should smell ocean. The fish should look moist and shiny. Don’t be afraid to ask when it came in, or to look at it and smell it. A good fish market will be happy to do this.

Jean’s Number #1 Tip for Grilling Seafood: Don’t Overcook It

There are two main tricks to grilling seafood successfully. One: do not overcook. Two: do not overcook.  But it is also important to choose the kind of fish or shellfish that will hold up to high heat and can be flipped without falling apart. As a general rule, any type of fin fish that you can find in “steak” form, such as swordfish, tuna, halibut will be a good choice. Or, try grilling whole fish such as snapper, branzino or mackerel.

Ask your fishmonger to clean a whole fish for the grill, brush inside and out with olive oil, season well with salt and pepper, and stuff with your favorite herbs and slices of citrus. If you’re feeling brave, consider lobsters split in half, brushed with oil and butter (I know, I know. But you can ask your fishmonger to do it for you.) Place it meat side down on the grill, until just opaque. There are lots of other good options: oysters, hard shell clams, large shrimp, or even squid.

Be sure that your grill is very clean and wiped generously with oil. And consider using a meat thermometer. A good thick fish steak should be just this side of opaque, and at a temperature of about 140 degrees and covered and rested for a few minutes before serving.

grilled little neck clams

Grilled Littleneck Clams with Garlic and Parsley Butter

Grilling bivalves like clams and oysters is super simple because, when they are cooked, the shells open. They are especially delicious because they poach in their own juices. Discard any with broken shells, or that do not open.

24 small hard-shell littleneck or cherrystone clams
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 ½ tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
Lemon wedges for serving

1.   Preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Rinse or scrub the clams until they are clean and free of sand and grit.

2.   While the grill is heating, warm the butter and olive oil in a small pan until butter is melted. Add the garlic and parsley, and sauté just until the garlic is soft and fragrant, being careful not to brown the garlic as it will become bitter. Keep this mixture warm while the clams are cooking.

3.   Using a pair of tongs, place the clams on the grill and cook until they open. Using an oven mitt or heatproof glove, carefully twist the top shell off and place the bottom shell back on the grill.

4.   Spoon the garlic mixture onto each clam, about ½ to 1 tablespoon. Cook until the butter mixture just bubbles. Remove from the heat with tongs and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: Depending on the size of the clams, the thickness of their shells and the heat of the grill, they can take as long as 10 minutes to open but may begin to “pop” in as little as two minutes.

grilled swordfish with salsa

Grilled Swordfish with Nectarine and Poblano Salsa

I like this recipe as it lets the flavors of the fish shine though. In late summer and fall you may be able to find super fresh fruit and veggies for this recipe in your local farmer’s market. Poblano peppers are zingy and flavorful without being spicy hot. If you like your salsa spicier, just add a bit of your favorite hot sauce.

1 ripe but firm nectarine
2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
½ poblano, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds of swordfish steaks (about 1 to 1 ½ inches thick)
Sea salt and fresh pepper

1.   Preheat a gas grill or light the charcoal.

2.   In a non-reactive bowl, toss all the ingredients except 2 tablespoons of the oil, the swordfish and salt and pepper. Allow the salsa to sit for at least an hour or up to 4 hours to let the flavors meld.

3.   When your grill is nice and hot, place the swordfish over high heat and cook 3-4 minutes on each side, (turning only once) or until just barely opaque. Serve immediately with salsa on the side.

rose wine and vodka summer cocktail

Rosé in Bloom Cocktail

A nice rosé makes a great pairing with most seafood, but this lovely combination of ingredients pairs well with the rich flavors of the swordfish in the swordfish recipe. It balances with the sweet/savory salsa that accompanies it.

1 1/2 ounces orange or citron vodka
1 ounce pomegranate juice
2 ounces rosé
Splash of sparkling water
Orange wedge and a sprig of mint for garnish

Pour vodka, pomegranate juice and rosé over ice. Stir and add a generous splash of seltzer. Garnish with orange and mint sprig.

Jean Kerr headshot

Jean Kerr is the former co-founder and editor-in-chief of Northeast Flavor magazine, the first New England regional food and wine magazine. She is currently a contributing editor to The Cook’s Cook magazine.

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