The warm-weather months are the perfect time to try something new with fish and seafood.
Maybe it’s a new technique – such as poaching in a foil packet on the grill or making homemade ceviche – or maybe it’s asking a fish monger for a variety you’ve never tried.
Carol Huntsberger, who has owned Quality Seafood Market on Austin’s Airport Boulevard for more than a decade, says her favorite summertime fish is grilled halibut, but she’s just as likely to skewer swordfish or scallops.
Remember, when it comes to seafood, it’s always good to pay extra attention to the place of origin and harvesting methods, for both health and environmental reasons. Seafoodwatch.org keeps a detailed list of species that the Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends and does not recommend eating.
Huntsberger offered nine tips for making better fish this summer.
1 Don’t fear the grill basket. Grilling large fish on a plank can make for a nice presentation, but if you’re only cooking for a few people, a smaller grill basket might be a better approach. Certain kinds of fish, such as the super-flaky halibut, need a little extra support so they don’t break apart when handled. The baskets come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and if you grill more than once a month, you won’t just use it for fish.
2 Get the good salmon. Wild salmon run in the summer, and they taste infinitely better than the light-pink farmed fillets.
3 Keep the skin on. If you are working on a grill, the fish skin can help hold the fillet together, much like a plank or basket. Start cooking the fish skin-side-down over direct heat, with the thickest part of the fish over the hottest part of the grill. Flip the fish at the end to get grill marks on the other side. If you’re sauteeing, poaching or baking, it doesn’t make as much sense to keep the skin on, unless you prefer, Huntsberger says, and if you do want the skin removed, your fishmonger should be happy to do it for you.
4 When in doubt, saute. No one wants to mess up a $22-per-pound fillet of fish, so if you’re unsure how it would fare on the grill or flash-seared in a pan, gently saute it in butter or a little olive oil. Sauteeing is a great get-to-know-you technique for fish you’ve never prepared before. “You can learn a little bit about fish, and you can’t overcook it because you’re sauteing it in olive oil or butter, which will keep it moist,” Huntsberger says.
5 30-minute marinade. Fish don’t need more than half an hour in a marinade, if you’re using one at all. Huntsberger will use something as simple as Italian dressing, letting the fish soak up some of the flavors in the fridge for a short time before cooking.
6 Let freshness be your guide. Even if you walk into the store with a plan for what you’d like to cook, talk to the fishmonger about what’s freshest off the boat, especially if you’re making something delicate like ceviche.
7 Steak, without the beef. You won’t fool anyone into thinking that a seared, dense fish, such as swordfish, tuna and blue marlin, is a rib-eye, but steak-like fish – brushed or served with a light sauce like salmoriglio – is ideal for summertime grilling.
8 Freshwater, for less. With shrimp prices so high due to increased demand and decreased imports, shoppers are looking for another affordable way to put seafood on the table. Freshwater fish, such as trout, catfish or tilapia, tend to be less expensive than some of the previously mentioned fish, and you might even be catching some yourself this summer. Huntsberger recommends sauteeing or grilling these kinds of fish after marinating or rubbing them with a spice mixture, such as lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning.
9 Know when it’s time to splurge. There’s nothing like digging into a mess of crab legs or lobster tails, which really shine when prepared on a grill. These crustaceans are almost always already cooked when sold at market, so you’re just reheating them at home. Serve with ample melted butter on the side and extra napkins for your hands. What’s summer if you can’t get a little messy while you’re eating?