With summer drawing to a close (and boy, did it go fast this year), I’m trying to mark as many warm weather cooking projects off my culinary bucket list as possible. This season, that list has included homemade frozen yogurt, tomato cobbler, blueberry buckle and whole grilled fish. I managed to get the first three checked off in delicious fashion weeks ago, but the grilled whole fish has been haunting me since June.
Last week I decided it was time to be brave and tackle Bobby Flay’s Grilled Sardines With Garlic Walnut Sauce before Labor Day arrived. I figured that sardines would be easy, since they’re small fish (my assumption being that tiny fish would be more manageable than giant ones). Of course, when I paid a visit to my local fish market, I was told that sardines are hard to come by this time of year and that I shouldn’t expect to see them in the Philadelphia area until November.
Instead of letting my hopes be dashed entirely, I decided to pick a different small fish that could stand in for the sardines. I landed on tiny trout, and though the flesh isn’t as dense and oily, I had a sense that they would still go nicely with the sauce.
Happily, my instincts were proven right. My small trout held up to both the marinade and grilling, and their flavors were magical with the pesto-like sauce. Although I still want to try sardines with this sauce (and I have half of it tucked away in the freezer for just such a day), I feel more comfortable with grilled whole fish than I ever have before. And since that was truly the goal of this experiment, I feel accomplished nonetheless. If you’ve long wanted to try grilling whole fish as well, don’t delay. Make it your Weekender.
Before you heat your grill, here are a few things you should know:
- When picking out your fish, look for something that smells clean, not nose-wrinklingly fishy.
- Even if you have time to let the fish marinate for only a few minutes, it’s worth taking that step. The depth of flavor it adds is really nice.
- High heat is your friend when grilling fish. A quick brush with oil and a screaming-hot grill means that you won’t leave half the fish behind on the grate.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.