The Virginia Gazette

Keep fish from sticking to the grill

It doesn't take supernatural powers to keep fish from sticking to the grill. Just follow these basic steps:

• Clean the grill before you start. Scrub it down with a Brillo pad if you must; those baked-on bits of last week's dinner will cause nothing but trouble.

• Dry the fish well. Pat it down with paper towels.

• Oil both the fish and the grill. Brush the fish with olive oil or marinade and wipe the grill with an oil-soaked paper towel. There are also special nonstick cooking sprays for grills, but, honestly, the paper towel works just as well.

• Build the fire that's right for what you're cooking. The smaller the food to be cooked, the hotter the fire should be. Use the hand test to check the fire's heat. Hold your hand three or four inches above the grill and count how many seconds you can leave it there before it gets too hot. For something like squid, which cooks almost instantly, it should take only a second or two before you have to move your hand away. For small fish such as mackerel and sardines and for most fillets, it should take three or four seconds. For a whole fish it should take four or five seconds or even longer, depending on the thickness.

• Heat the grill well before you start. That instant sear is key to keeping the fish skin from sticking.

• Position the fish so it lies across the grill bars, not alongside them. The less metal in contact with the meat, the less the chance for sticking.

• Especially if you're barbecuing small fish, steaks or fillets, a grill basket will make your job easier. It's basically nothing more than a large, flat steel basket with a very long handle; the best of them adjust to different thicknesses of fish. These allow you to cook the fish on the fire and then remove it to the kitchen to pry loose any sticky spots at your leisure and in private. Obviously, you can't preheat them before you put the fish in, but you still want to make sure they are clean and well-oiled before you use them.

• Don't try to turn the fish too early. The skin will release much more easily from the grill when it is well cooked and crisp. Depending on the heat of the fire, it might be as much as five minutes before you should try to flip it.

• And, finally, when you're handling the fish, proceed slowly and gently. Save the he-man antics for steaks; fish is a delicate thing. Wield your spatula like a scalpel, not a shovel.

-- Russ Parsons

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