Fishy Backyard BBQ
We’ve had countless BBQs with our friends Lauren and Bret. We all love to cook, so while we have several standards, it’s always fun to try new things in a friendly audience.
Something Bret and I have tossed around is the idea of grilling a whole fish. The Old Town Whole Foods has an INCREDIBLE fish and seafood department, complete with every kind of fish you could ever dream of and shuck-to-order oysters. It’s a food lovers dream. And the ice towers full of whole trout, snappers, rockfish, and even enormous swordfish was calling our names.
MUST. GRILL. WHOLE. FISH.
To say “thank you” to our friends for Dewey-sitting last weekend, I invited them for dinner of whole fish. And asparagus and corn salad. We also invited friends Brian and Jamie—with a warning this was an experimental dinner. They were up for the fun!
Before heading to WF, I rooted around online for recipes and/or general whole-fish-grilling techniques. I finally decided to use several recipe ideas and just go for it. It would all depend on what was fresh that day! (I was also counting on Bret’s help…we make a good cooking team)
The Yellow-Eye Snapper was beautiful and on sale, making it a great option. I figured at a little over a pound each, one fish could easily feed two people. The people working the fish counter were very helpful, weighing several options for me and giving me cooking tips.
Bret and the fish got acquainted before the cooking began. (Yes, I did eventually seal the deal by smashing the fish into his face. I couldn’t resist. You get that close to a fish with kissy face, you get a fishy kiss.) Lauren was snapping photos and squealing with disgust throughout the preparation process…the eyes were “freaking her out.”
I picked a bunch of fresh herbs from our pots—basil, parsley, and thyme. We sliced up some lemons too. Can’t have fish without lemons!
Working on a grill pan placed on a sheet pan, we scored the fish and covered it in olive oil (not the extra virgin stuff, just regular. What I always use for cooking). After applying liberal amounts of salt both inside and out, we stuffed handfulls of herbs and lemon slices in the fish cavities.
Then came the good stuff—a Thai sauce I found on Cook & Be Merry. It called for fish sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tons of pressed garlic, lemon juice, and lime juice. (I didn’t have oyster sauce on hand, so I left it out. What the heck do you use oyster sauce for?) I tripled the recipe to make enough for three fish.
Onto the grill went the fish (sans the sheet pan). Ten minutes per side while Bret applied more marinade between flips. Using the grill pan helped a little with the sticking, but the fish still needed to be finessed to flip. I guess you can’t really get around the sticking-factor with fish skin.
In no time, they were done. They smelled FANTASTIC and, while they may seem kind of crazy in the picture above, looked scrumptious in person. I had originally planned for us to just take chunks off the fish as is, but Bret instead put his stupendous filleting skills to work.
We still had to be careful about bones, but the filleting certainly helped reduce the issue. We had to move fast once the fish was off the heat. With the asparagus (just grilled with lots of olive oil and salt), corn salad (see receipe below), and fresh bread we had ourselves quite a meal!
Everyone loved it!
Lauren and Jamie had to get past the fish eyeballs. One even “popped” out during the spin on the grill. We dared each other to eat it. No one did.
Next, I served dessert.
While at Whole Foods, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible-looking nectarines featured in the produce departments. I thought they may be good sliced and mascerated on homemade shortcakes, something I’ve never made before. I grabbed some heavy whipping cream and headed home with the confidence that Ina would have a good recipe for me. She did not disappoint! Her shortcake recipe could not be easier or yummier.
In the midst of my shortcake baking, I found an intriguing recipe for blueberry sauce (which I’ve hopelessly lost but this one at My Baking Addiction blog will work), for which I happened to have all the ingredients. It took five minutes of cooking.
The result was this:
And OMG…it is my new signature dish. I can’t wait to make this over and over and over.
I made everything but the whipped cream ahead, so it was a cinch to throw together after dinner. I threw the heavy whipping cream and some vanilla extract in the mixer while I split the shortcakes and nuked the blueberry sauce for 30 seconds. The towers were assembled as such: shortcake, whipped cream, macerated sliced apricots, whipped cream, shortcake, blueberry sauce.
Sweet and fresh, it was also very light (in tummy-feel, not in calories).
I must say this was my favorite meals in months. And while everyone was impressed, it could not have been easier. Almost everything was make-ahead, ready to go before anyone even arrived.
Mixed with comfortably cool weather, several drinks, good friends…it was a perfect evening.
Fresh Corn Salad
adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe
8 ears of corn, shucked
1/2 large shallot, diced
3/4 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.
Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the shallot, tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature. Best if made ahead to allow flavors to meld.