Charcoal grilling has long been a favored outdoor pastime in California. After World War II the design of many new suburban homes featured an outdoor patio. Often the focus of these outdoor living spaces was the built-in barbecue.
Many baby-boomers have fond memories of their parents barbecuing thick steaks on a warm Saturday night. All those baby-boomers have now grown up and kindled a renewed interest in barbecuing. Only now some call it charcoal grilling, and what some grill now is more often chicken or fish rather than steaks.
The adjustable-height grill with thick grill bars as found in most restaurants is the easiest to use. When grilling fish, certain precautions should be taken to prevent it from sticking. While the fire is very hot, scrub the grill bars with a wire brush. Apply oil to the fish immediately before it hits the grill. About 10 seconds after putting the fish on the grill, lift it off the grill bars all around the edges, but leave it in the same place. Turn it over only once during cooking. A simple and tasty method of preventing sticking is to lay down a bed of herbs such as fennel or rosemary to cook the fish on.
When choosing a fuel, keep in mind that many types of fish are delicately flavored and can easily be overpowered. Natural hardwood charcoal such as mesquite burns very cleanly since it has no chemical additives or coal, as is found in pressed briquettes. An electric fire starter, small kindling fire or a chimney device are the cleanest methods of starting a fire, imparting no off-flavor, as often comes from a petroleum-based lighter fluid.
Also be sure the fire has had time to burn down to gray ash-coated coals. Flaming charcoal releases volatile oils, which can impart a petroleum-like flavor to fish. For added flavor when cooking assertively flavored fish such as salmon or tuna, small amounts of hardwood chips, fruitwoods, vine cuttings or herbs can be added to the fire.
Any type of fish or shellfish can be grilled, but the easiest are the firm-fleshed fatty fish such as salmon or swordfish and shellfish in the shell like crabs or shrimp. Once you learn the basic technique for handling fish on the grill, you'll find it easy to move on to the more difficult. Whole trimmed rex sole, petrale sole, rockfish fillets, mackerel or scallops are all delicious when grilled. And experimentation with marinades, butters, herbs and different fuels provides endless possibilities.
Parsley Sauce, an assertive sauce, is delicious on mildly flavored fish.
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 hard-cooked egg
6 black olives, pitted
1/4 cup olive oil, about
Puree garlic, parsley, bread crumbs, egg, olives, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in blender or food processor until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Serve chilled. Sauce will keep for 3 to 4 days. Makes about 3/4 cup.