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a person uses sprigs of rosemary to brush butter over fish being grilled
  1. Use the freshest fish possible. If your recipe calls for swordfish, but the freshest catch at the fishmonger’s is walleye, then go with the walleye.
  2. Know where your fish come from. Shop at a fish store with knowledgeable staff and ask questions: The farmed-versus-wild debate and use of sustainable fisheries are major concerns these days. I almost always prefer wild-caught seafood, but in many countries there are ecologically safe farm fisheries. Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list ( for the best choices.
  3. Rinse and pat dry your fish when you get it home, then marinate or cook right away. Buying and cooking it the same day is always best, but fish can spend a day on ice if it’s fresh enough.
  4. Always keep your grill clean and the racks lightly coated with vegetable oil so foods cook properly and release easily. Keep spray bottles of water on hand for dousing flare-ups and olive oil or canola oil for lubricating sticky spots.
  5. Your grill is hot enough when you can’t hold your hand over the coals for longer than a second or two from 6 inches away.
  6. Firm, fatty fish like salmon is the easiest to barbecue. The toughest: fine-fleshed, flat ones (say that three times fast), such as flounder. Also, steaks are easier to grill than fillets.
  7. Marinating creates flavor and/or a crust, but overmarinating can turn your fish mushy or overwhelm its natural flavor. Marinating for just a few hours is plenty if you are using a strong rub, paste or liquid seasoning. Never marinate using papaya or pineapple, as they contain an enzyme that breaks down the flesh.
  8. Grilling time for whole fish varies between species, but a good rule to follow is 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.
  9. The fish should be flaky when cooked through, but some fish, such as salmon or tuna, are ideally cooked less than medium, and many people prefer them rare. White, firm-fleshed fish like snapper or halibut, while edible raw, tastes better when cooked just to the point of doneness.
  10. Use a bundle of tied rosemary as a brush for basting fish on the grill. When almost finished, toss the herb bundle on the coals and continue cooking, covered, for a few minutes to infuse the fish with an herb-smoked flavor.
  11. Stuff with lemon slices, fork-mashed garlic and whole herb sprigs for an intense flavor boost.
  12. If you want a smoky flavor, soak dried grapevine cuttings, fruitwood chips or hardwood chips in water and then toss on the coals.

This was excerpted from “All Fired-Up” which was published in the June 2004 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern is an Emmy and four-time James Beard Award winning TV personality, chef, writer, teacher and social justice advocate.

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