The open grill is often synonymous with large pieces of meat, generally steak and beef, but today we’re going to look at some tips and tricks to prepare tasty fish and seafood on Basque grills, mangals and robatayakis, an option that many indisputably prefer.
Fish on an open grill
Of course, every cook has their own tricks and their own way of preparing fish on an open grill, although we can say that in general fish is cooked more frequently over coals (sometimes even with them on the side) than over fire. Of course, fish is a product that must be treated delicately, and handling it and exposing it to fire must be done with at least a little caution unless you want it to break, dry, burn or fall apart. The embers must firstly be consolidated, so it is advisable to prepare them sufficiently in advance.
Oily fish, ideal on the grill
Of all the types of fish, blue fish such as sardines, red mullet, swordfish, salmon, mackerel, sea bream or tuna with their delicious tastes benefit the most from grilling, as they have more fat than others and so do not remain dry, if of course they are well done.
As for white fish, there are two species that are especially suitable for preparation on an open grill. One is the turbot, which after being cleaned, is fantastic with cuts that can be stuffed with tomato, pepper or onion, being very tasty inside and crispy on the outside. And as for hake, its neck, when seasoned, is the part most recommended for preparation.
In general, it is important that the fish be presented in one piece. If a fish is large (and obviously pre-eviscerated), it is possible to cut it into medallions or cubes without filleting and keeping their scales, which will protect the fish and prevent it from drying out too much.
The option of fish pans and baskets
Where filleted fish is cooked on an open grill, fish pans, baskets or cages that allow fish to be manipulated and turned on the grill without disintegrating or breaking are ideal. And remember: if they’re pre-seasoned, it’s the icing on the cake.
Fish pans are also perfect for large and semi-fatty fish such as sea bass, sea bream, sole or turbot: just make a couple of cuts in their loins and add salt, making sure they are well done inside and grilled with their scales. In the case of monkfish, the skin and the head should be removed so that it can be cooked without the direct heat of the embers.
Fish benefit greatly from an open grill, and although the vast majority are delicious with an extra touch of that smoked flavour — especially in the case of salmon, mullet or mackerel — sardines are undoubtedly the ultimate fish for an open grill. The perfect way to prepare classic sardines on an open grill (this also applies to mackerel) is directly over the coals, without cleaning and without removing the scales, so that they do not dry out. It is advisable to watch them closely so that they are not overdone, as they cook quickly and are usually prepared by the dozen due to their size, making them difficult to handle.
We can establish certain general rules when preparing fish on an open grill. The first thing is to avoid exposing any type of fish to direct flames. They should therefore be distributed equally. The intensity or proximity to the coals will depend on the size of the fish.
When will my open-grilled fish be ready? It is best to remove the fish from the grill shortly before they are completely done, as they will finish cooking due to their own heat. But when? As a general (but not universal) rule of thumb, when its flesh has a vibrant white colour and comes off the bones easily.
What about seafood? tips for open grills
A wonderful grilled seafood dish, cooked to perfection, is a real delicacy. This can include lobsters, prawns, shrimps and all kinds of bivalves such as oysters, mussels, clams, razor clams, scallops, crabs, octopus, etc. Before putting seafood on an open grill, it should be cleaned: bivalves require a couple of hours in salted water so that they are perfectly clean and free of sand, and then need to be drained.
In any case, seafood cooks very quickly and not all species require the same cooking time. That’s why the trick is to know which seafood takes the longest to cook, and those should be the first to be put on the grill. As with fish, the fire needs to go out first, leaving the embers. A trick that many chefs use is to throw coarse salt on the coals, which gives the seafood a touch of a marine aroma that’s sure to please everyone.
Lobsters and crabs, cut into two lengthwise pieces, take the longest time to cook. Prawns need less time than lobsters, and should of course be placed unpeeled one next to the other; both will benefit from some coarse salt to improve their flavour. Bivalve species such as clams or mussels are the next to be put on the grill, and scallops will need the least time. When the clams open and the prawns have their typical intense colour, the grill is ready. As for octopus, please be aware that it must be frozen before being prepared, which will also help to make it tastier and softer. The trick is to cut lengthwise along the legs and place the white part on the grill.
In any case, for small pieces of seafood such as shrimps, scallops, oysters and other small shellfish, the baskets or cages mentioned in the section on fish are particularly useful.
Click here for details of the various types of special open grills available from Josper for fish and seafood.