Fish Meets Grill

[A shorter version of this post was published in Experience Life magazine in July of 2013.]

It’s the time of year when taking dinner outside is a sure sign that the long-anticipated warm months are upon us. Step outdoors and you’re likely to detect the mouthwatering, savory aroma of a neighbor’s grill.

For many folks, the thrill of the grill conjures thoughts of burgers, steaks, and ‘dogs. But for those of us looking for a healthier and lighter alternative, fish is unbeatable and a welcome departure from the familiar. The heavier red meats can leave us feeling weighty and during the warm months, a nice salmon steak with some savory grilled vegetables hits the spot.

Choosing the right fish will make the difference between fetching torn pieces from the clutch of the fire and a juicy, intact steak. Flaky fillets that are sold skinless like cod, haddock, sole, flounder, and sable should steer clear of the fire. Salmon, tuna, bluefish, swordfish, and small whole fish like red snapper, sea bream, and trout are good candidates.

Healthy, Fabulous Fish
Fish consumption has been attributed to Asian and European cultures’ generally healthy populations and everyone could benefit from eating more of this healthy meat. For those concerned with mercury toxicity in our fish supply, recent studies have shown that the nutritional benefits of eating fish twice a week outweigh the possible risks.

As with all of our food, sourcing matters. The three resources below are the go-to for learning about fish that’s responsibly farmed and caught, in ways that have the least impact on the environment and can be traced to a sustainable source, is richest in Omega-3 fatty acids, and is lowest in mercury contamination:

Additionally, here’s a guide called, 12 Fish You Should Never Eat.

Fatty fish including trout, tuna, and salmon are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, lower triglyceride levels, increase HDL cholesterol, help minimize inflammation and blood clotting, and keep blood vessels healthy.

Fish is also a great source of thyroid-supportive iodine.

Hot and Fast
Grilling fish is fast and easy and is great for when you’re having guests. The direct heat cooks the fish quickly, without removing any precious moisture, leaving it juicy and oh so flavorful.

You’ll want to preheat the grill to high and then brush with oil just before adding the fish. Don’t remove any skin and cook this side first. To avoid torn skin, slip a fork between the grill grates and gently lift up on the fish. Do this in a few places until the grill releases its grip.

Fresh lemon juice and melted lime butter are good to have handy while your fish is cooking. You can brush these on as you’re grilling to add flavor and keep the fish moist. Just remember that butter burns easily, so brush it on carefully.

When fish is cooked, the meat will flake easily with a fork. A good estimate is 8 minutes per inch of thickness. To test for doneness, cut halfway into your steak and peer inside. It should still be just a tad translucent when removed from the heat, even if you prefer your fish well done. 

Grilling Considerations
Be aware that any food that’s heated in the oven, stove, or grill contains advanced-glycation end products, or AGEs. These compounds contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation, accelerate the aging process, and fuel chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and impaired thyroid function.

Grilling is especially notorious for raising the AGE content of food — and meat and fish are especially susceptible to AGE formation. (Cooked or grilled fruits and vegetables contain fewer AGEs.) But here’s the good news: the phytochemicals in raw vegetables and fruits and the inflammation-fighting compounds in herbs and spices help offset the negative effects of AGEs. So pair grilled fish with a hearty serving of summer vegetables or whip up an herb-rich marinade. 

Speaking of marinades, below is a wonderful guide from Lisa Markley, co-author of my upcoming Essential Thyroid Cookbook. Just reading this made my mouth water… 

Key Components of a Marinade:

 Olive oil or avocado oil are great sources of healthy fats that can be easily used in a marinade. Coconut milk is also a good option. Fat adds moisture, carries flavor, and disperses the marinade ingredients throughout to evenly coat meats or vegetables.

Acid: Acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, citrus juice, wine, or tomato juice not only provide bright flavors, but also aid in tenderizing meats and vegetables. Additionally, citrus juice is a great source of Vitamin C, an antioxidant that can counteract some of the potentially harmful effects of AGEs (see above).

Salt: Good quality sea salt tends to bring flavors out, but a little tends to go a long way. Gluten-free tamari soy sauce, coconut aminos (a soy-free soy sauce alternative), and/or miso can also be whisked into a marinade to add saltiness. These may also be a good choice if you’re looking to amplify the umami (savory richness) in your dish.

Sweet: Not every marinade needs the addition of something sweet, but oftentimes a touch of honey, pure maple syrup, or coconut sugar can balance out any bitter or acidic flavors and aid in caramelization or browning. 

Additional Seasonings: Aromatics such as basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, garlic, and/or ginger are loaded with flavors that can accentuate your marinade and take it to the next level. Citrus zest can add a citrusy burst without adding too much acidity. Dried herbs and spices are also great to use, but are often more concentrated in flavor, so less is needed.

Spiciness: For a spicy kick that gets your taste buds tingling, add chopped jalapeno, dried chili pepper, or a dash of hot sauce like Sriracha.

How to:
A good rule of thumb is to start with a base of two parts oil to one part acid, then add the remaining components (salt, sweet, seasonings, and spiciness) to taste.

Place your meat or vegetables in a shallow dish with a lid, cover with marinade, refrigerate, and allow to soak up the flavors for the following amounts of time:

  • Vegetables: 30-60 minutes
  • Seafood: 15-30 minutes; any longer than this may cause delicate seafood to become mushy or more prone to burning
  • Chicken and pork: 3 hours; longer marinating time allows more time to tenderize the meat, but too long will denature the proteins
  • Beef and lamb: 3 to 6 hours; these tougher cuts of red meat tend to benefit from longer marinating time to allow for better tenderization, especially if you’re starting with a thicker cut

Shortcut: If you’re in a pinch on time or simply not up for making your own homemade marinade, any good quality vinaigrette dressing will make a fine substitute. I highly recommend Tessamae’s products because they tend to be made with quality oils like olive oil and they’re free from excess added sugars. 

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