Grilled Fish an Ideal Treat for Memorial Day
I often get asked to predict the latest trends in cooking. Right now, with the Memorial Day weekend approaching and with it the unofficial start of the grilling season, that prediction is easy to make: People everywhere will be grilling, and more of them than ever will be grilling fish.
Every day, it seems, people are eating more fish as they seek healthier, better-balanced diets. And grilling is one of the best ways I know to prepare fish, as the intense direct heat cooks the delicate flesh quickly, giving it a beautifully browned, slightly smoky surface while keeping the interior wonderfully moist.
For the grill, it's best to select firm-fleshed fish in relatively thick fillets that will hold together better over the open fire. In the recipe I share here, one of the most popular early dishes I served at my first Spago restaurant back in the early 1980s, I feature mahi mahi, but you could substitute U.S.-caught striped bass, U.S. wild-caught Pacific halibut, or wild-caught Alaskan salmon, too. Whatever your choice, buy it from a reliable source that offers fresh seafood and has a quick turnover of product. Only buy fish that is sustainable, looks bright and moist and has a fresh, clean scent, with no hints of fishy odor. Aim to cook the fish the same day you buy it.
I also like to buy my fish fillets with the skin still on. It helps to hold each fillet together on the grill and also shields the flesh, preserving moisture. In fact, with the skin on, the fish fillets can be left skin-down on the grill for about 80 percent of the total cooking time; just turn them over to brown briefly on the other side for a couple of minutes before serving. If you or your guests aren't big fans of fish skin, it's very easy to peel off by hand after cooking. Personally, I find the crispy cooked skin absolutely delicious.
To add even more flavor to the fish, you can marinate it for a couple of hours before cooking. For this recipe, I simple drizzle it with olive oil and top it with some sliced onion, flavors that will harmonize with the red onion butter prepared while the grill heats up. If you'd prefer a less rich sauce for the fish, simply saute some chopped onion, roasted bell peppers, seeded and diced tomato, and fresh herbs of your choice in a little olive oil.
Either way, the quick sauce you make serves another smart purpose besides complementing the flavor of the grilled fish. If you get a little bit distracted during cooking and leave the fillets on the grill too long, the sauce will restore moisture to every bite, making your first efforts at summer grilling reliably successful.
GRILLED MAHI MAHI WITH RED ONION BUTTER
- 2 pounds fresh Atlantic-caught mahi mahi fillet, also known as dolphinfish or dorado, cut into 4 equal pieces
- 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium-sized red onions, cut into slices 1/8 inch thick
- Freshly ground white pepper
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only, plus extra small sprigs for garnish
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup organic heavy cream
- Olive oil-flavored nonstick cooking spray
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Put the mahi mahi fillets in a shallow dish, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and top with a few slices of the onion and some white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.
About 30 minutes before cooking, start a fire in an outdoor grill. Remove the fish from the refrigerator.
While the fire is heating, put a large saute pan over medium heat and add the remaining olive oil. Add the remaining onion and saute, stirring frequently, until they have begun to turn very slightly golden but are still crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme leaves.
Add the wine to the pan, raise the heat to high, and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Boil the wine until it has reduced by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced slightly to a consistency just thick enough to coat the spoon lightly, 3 to 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. A few pieces at a time, briskly stir in the butter. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside to keep the mixture warm.
Remove the fish fillets from the dish, discarding the onion slices that had topped them. Lightly spray the fish on both sides with olive oil-flavored nonstick cooking spray and season with salt. Grill until the fish is golden brown and feels slightly spring when carefully touched lightly and quickly with a fingertip, 5 to 7 minutes per side depending on thickness. (Alternatively, saute over high heat in a mixture of olive oil and butter.)
To serve, spoon the onion butter onto 4 warmed dinner plates. Place the mahi mahi fillets on top and garnish with small thyme sprigs. Serve immediately.
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