Thursday, April 30, 2015

Getting Grilled Fish Right

Fresh fish and seafood have become the preferred alternative to red meat and chicken on the grill, and for good reason! From fresh Alaskan salmon to grilled Florida snapper, seafood offers by far the widest range of wonderful choices.  And it’s good for you as well.  But what if you've never cooked anything but brats or burgers?  We take the mystery out of grilling seafood, and make it easy to enjoy the delicious grilled fish you usually eat in restaurants, right in your own back yard. But remember, once you've tried grilled seafood, it’s tough to return to burgers...not that we’d be disappointed if you never looked back.
Tools of the Trade:
As they say in scouting, be prepared.  Having the right tools can make your job easier and your results better:
Grill Toppers - stainless steel, aluminum or porcelain-covered metal  grill toppers to set on top of your grill grate.
Sandwich-style Grill Basket - makes turning small whole fish, fillets, steaks or kebabs a breeze.
Skewers - wood or metal, for easy and elegant kebabs.
Electric starter or chimney - makes starting coals easy, eliminates starter fluid which will adversely affect flavor. They really can make your fish taste like jet fuel.
Wood Cooking Planks - placing your fish on one of these, which you soak in water first, adds a delicate extra bit of flavor, and keeps the fish from falling through the grate. Best when using the lid on your grill so that the fish cooks without turning.
Mesquite & hardwood lump charcoal - use some of each to impart a sweet, naturally smoky flavor to fish. Confession - after decades of starting bonfires in our old Weber kettle, we have made the switch to Weber gas and are grilling a lot more often, because it's so much easier!! And less messy!
Other handy accessories:
Spring-loaded tongs, metal grill brush and towel to clean your grate; a long handled spatula.
Dry herbs and wood chips - dried herb twigs or bay leaves dropped into the fire are a trick used by the French to add flavor to grilled fish.  Oak, hickory or apple wood chips soaked in water can be sprinkled over charcoal or gas grills to impart pleasant, smoky flavors to your seafood.
Spray bottle of water - to douse flare-ups on charcoal grills that can quickly turn beautiful fish to cinders.
Non-stick vegetable spray - to spray your grate before putting over the fire, to prevent the fish from sticking. (So far this hasn't seemed necessary on our gas grill.)

Choosing your fish: 
The following selections are easy to cook because of their firm texture, and can easily be placed directly on a well prepared grate.  Beginners, start here!
salmon fillets or steaks, tuna steaks, swordfish steaks, halibut steaks, grouper fillets, Chilean sea bass, sturgeon, shrimp & scampi, mahi mahi, marlin steaks, wahoo/ono
Once you've mastered the first list, try some of these:
scallops (on skewers), lake trout, lobster tails, halibut fillets, live Maine lobsters, whole flat fish, black sea bass, red snapper fillets, whitefish, rainbow trout, squid (calamari), whole snapper, other whole fish, tilapia (use grill topper for more delicate fish)

Cleaning/Heating Things Up
      Before you put your fish on the grate, make sure that the steak or burgers you cooked last aren't hanging around. Scrape the grate with a metal brush. For gas grills, make sure the grate looks free of cow before putting on your seafood. On charcoal grills, after scraping, spray a little non-stick spray on the grate before starting the fire. 
      Adequate pre-heating is essential to the success of your seafood grilling.  Start by using enough charcoal to cover the the grill bottom when spread out, and allow it to burn to a light ash before cooking.  Spread the coals evenly. Remember -- 10 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness of your fish, measured at the thickest point, over medium high heat. Don’t overcook! Stay by the grill, don't wander off for an extended chat with the neighbors. Fish cooks really fast, and keeps on cooking even after removed from the grill. Err to the rare! 
      Gas grills should be set to medium high, around 450 degrees. Test the temperature by holding your hand about 5 inches from the grate.  If you can count to 5 slowly, it’s just right. If it’s too hot, let the coals burn longer, or turn down the gas. Always pre-heat your grate, and spray vegetable oil on grate BEFORE putting it over the fire.  Remember, fish tastes best when bought fresh and cooked quickly.
      Marinating - placing your seafood in a flavorful marinade for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking can turn a good meal into a great one.  Try one of Burhop’s delicious all natural marinades - ask your sales clerk for ideas.
      Toppings - we have some outstanding rubs plus great salsas and relishes that are fantastic with grilled fish - check our Burhop’s Pure & Simple® case and ask your Burhop’s clerk for items that are great additions to grilled seafood! If you don't live near one of our stores, think fresh salsas, pestos, marinades, rubs. 
      The Evanston Farmers Market is opening next week, can't wait to have fresh greens to go with our grilled fish!  One of our favorites is a beautifully grilled piece of salmon placed on a bed of lightly braised fresh arugula topped with just a drizzle of Lemon Dill Sauce. My mouth is watering in anticipation...

NEXT WEEK: Favorite Grilling Recipes for Mother's Day

Thursday, April 23, 2015

South Texas - Bugs, Bad Food, Bikers

We arrived back from San Antonio 2 days ago, covered in hundreds of chigger bites - apparently when it rains down there, the chiggers multiply and dine, voraciously, on any warm blooded ankle, leg, midsection etc. that gets close. I have never itched like this before, even when I had poison ivy as a kid, which was often.
     Visited the Alamo, something I've wanted to do since watching Davy Crockett on TV all those years ago. Discovered that Alamo means cottonwood, and that the poor souls who were trying to defend the Alamo from Santa Ana sent for help but never got any. At that time, this was actually part of Mexico, but they had offered land at a cheap price to Americans in order to settle the area. Once the Americans bought land, they decided they really didn't want to be Mexican, and revolted, hence the attack by the Mexican military.
     The birds in south Texas are great, especially on South Padre Island, a big stopping off point for migrants. Even saw a couple of lifers.
     S. Texas food, however, was a huge disappointment. If you don't like Tex Mex or fast food, there aren't many other choices. In San Antonio, on the River Walk, we found a passable seafood restaurant, but the shrimp tasted metallic, like it had been chemically treated. We ordered shrimp several places, and it was generally over cooked as well.
     On South Padre Island, we arrived at the same time as the start of a huge biker convention, fairly noisy for birding. We ate at a local restaurant called Parrot Eyes, and had mahi mahi sandwiches - the mahi was fresh and properly cooked, but the presentation was uninspired. Served on a poor quality white hamburger bun, there was one limp piece of lettuce, a small cup of plain mayonnaise, 4 dill pickle slices and a slice of hard tomato. Didn't eat the bun or anything else, but the fish was good on it's own.
     In the town of Alamo, near Brownsville, we ended up going to the local super market, HEB, buying some fresh salad ingredients and eating dinner in our room, which had a small efficiency kitchen, two out of four nights. Our last night in the south, we went to a place called Trevino's, where we were literally expected to speak fluent Spanish, as our waitress spoke no English at all. (Maybe Santa Ana won after all!) We finally got someone else to wait on us who spoke passable English, and managed to order a meal. In several of the places we ate that had fish on the menu, including Trevino's, when we asked what kind of fish it was, the response was "fish."
     So our Gulf Coast dining experience was a bust for us, a treat for the chiggers. Go for the birds, but definitely not the food.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Grilling Season & Bird Migration -best time of the year!

After over 35 years of cooking over charcoal in the summer, we bought a gas grill last summer in anticipation of a wedding party for our daughter in our back garden. Trying to have a fire going with 70 people milling about didn't seem like a good plan.
    I have to admit, I don't miss the charcoal. The fish husband never much liked building a fire, and now he doesn't have to. At some stage, I guess we'll have to get the gas tank refilled, but we'll cross that bridge when it runs out, hopefully not in the middle of a dinner party.
    For the back yard wedding party, we had Chef Jaime* come and grill a variety of seafood kebabs, shrimp, salmon, swordfish and tuna - and they ate it all. It was a great party item, because kebabs cook quickly on the grill, they look festive, and no one has to cut anything, they could just slide everything off the skewer and onto their plate and eat with a fork.
    Besides kebabs, one of my favorite fish for the grill is salmon - leave the skin on, and cook flesh side down first, then flip to the skin side. You can add pesto to the top for the last few minutes of cooking, then scoop the fish right off of the skin to serve. (When the grill has cooled, we take the fish skin off and give some of it to our dog, who thinks it's the best thing ever).
    Next favorite is tuna - instead of grinding up tuna for tuna burgers, I like to get  pieces about 1/2" thick, one per person, grill them quickly, just rubbed with olive oil and a little salt-free spice rub, then serve them on a fresh bun with some of our creamy coleslaw in the bun with the tuna. The tuna should be served rare, so about 1 to 2 minutes per side over a medium high flame will be just about right.  How many other kinds of burgers can you cook and serve in under 5 minutes!
     All of the meatier fish, like swordfish, halibut, marlin, mahi mahi, etc. are great for grilling - they can be marinated before grilling, rubbed with spices and oil, served with sauces or toppings added at the end of the cooking time or just before serving. Little or no mess in the kitchen, just make sure that someone periodically uses a metal brush on the grill to remove old food, especially if you grill a lot of meat as well.  We wipe our grate with olive oil after cleaning, to make it less likely for the fish to stick to it.
     If you have any grilling questions for us - please ask!
     Last but not least, the bird migration - it starts in March with the early water birds and sparrows, builds through April, and peaks in May, when the wood warblers, orioles, tanagers, thrushes and more come for summer nesting or just passing through on their way north. We love birds - we have several feeders in our garden, and a bird bath that we heat in the winter so there's always water for the birds to drink. We have traveled the world looking for birds, and find them more and more wonderful the more we learn.
     Birds are small, especially warblers, but so worth looking for - when you're outside in your garden enjoying a lovely seafood dinner, look around to see who else is eating dinner there - you may be lucky enough to see an oriole or a ruby throated hummingbird - we feed the orioles organic grape jelly, and they reward us by bringing their friends and family, a brilliant spectacle of orange and black. The hummingbirds love the salvia we plant in pots on our deck, and they come and eat right beside us.
     What could be better than sitting on your back deck or patio, enjoying a delicious seafood meal with your feathered friends?  

*Planning an outdoor party? We have staff members who can come and cook for you - contact us at Availability is limited, so contact us as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter & Passover Traditions at the Burhop's

For many years, we spent Easter in Arizona with the Fish Wife's parents, hunting for eggs in the cactus garden (ouch!) and eating Sunday brunch at La Paloma in Tucson. Poached salmon was always on the menu. On the occasions that school holidays didn't actually include Easter weekend, we would enjoy Easter in Evanston, hiding eggs indoors, then having brunch with Grandma and Grandpa Burhop.
     Our Easter brunch always included scrambled eggs with some sliced Ducktrap cold smoked salmon and fresh chives, clipped from the garden. Our chives are already up about 6" this year, so we will definitely be having our delicious chive & salmon scrambies.  And Hot Cross buns, of course!
     New this year at our Easter meals will be our son-in-law, who normally celebrates Passover. To honor him at dinner, we will be starting with Burhop's fresh gefilte fish - I'm not brave enough to make my own yet, and the ones Chef Jaimie makes are outstanding.  My Jewish friends tell me horror stories of gefilte fish out of a jar that has to be covered in horseradish to be edible, or alternatively of the great gefilte fish their mother/aunt/grandmother used to make. They either loved it or hated it.
     Gefilte fish are basically fish dumplings, pretty much the same as a quenelle.  My most memorable meal ever was fresh quenelles at Aux Lyonnaise in Paris, one of the restaurants of Chef Alain Ducasse. The quenelles, made with fresh pike, were out of this world delicious, so good that I wouldn't let anyone else at the table even taste them. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. They were served with a sauce that was like a very light beurre blanc - absolutely perfect with the quenelles. I found this recipe on line for quenelles and will try it out when I have the time!
     So if you want to save yourself the air fare to Paris, a really good gefilte fish is pretty close! But don't get the ones in a jar - if you live near one of our stores, get some fresh ones, or check for a local fish market that either makes them or will grind the fish for you.
     Another of my favorite food traditions for Easter is turning some of the hard boiled eggs into deviled eggs with some salmon caviar on top. We get our fresh eggs to hard boil from the Evanston winter farmer's market*, and they're already in beautiful shades of light tan, dark tan and blue-green, so you really don't need to dye them at all. After they're found and peeled, I cut them in half lengthwise, take out the yokes, mix the yokes with light mayonnaise, salt, pepper and a touch of cayenne, then spoon the filling back in the egg halves and top with the salmon roe. And if you're tired of eating eggs on Easter, you can keep the hard boiled eggs in the fridge for several days and make the deviled eggs for another occasion.
     Probably the hardest part of Easter for me is avoiding eating 10 lbs. of chocolate. There always seems to be a lot of it around, probably because I buy it "to give away," but I find that if I have lots of fruit for brunch, I eat less of the chocolate. Whatever works. Have you ever noticed how all holidays seem to center around food?
     Wishing everyone a joyous Easter and Passover season!
*Evanston's winter market runs from late November through the end of April and is in the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. 9 am to 1 pm every Saturday. Several farmers from the summer market are there, plus several local artisan food vendors. The last few weeks there have been tons of greens - great for brazing with fresh salmon!