When it comes to cooking delicious BBQ seafood, I believe fish quality, cooking tools, cooking surfaces and the preparation makes all the difference.
Even the simplest seafood recipes can be absolutely delicious, but a barbecuing can add a whole new depth of smokey flavour that cannot be achieved in the kitchen.
In this blog I will share my tips and tricks to help you get the best out of your barbecued seafood, along with my guide to eating BBQ seafood seasonally.
Quality of your fish
Buy the freshest fish you can. Ordering through a local, or online fishmonger like the Cornish Fishmonger will mean that your fish has been freshly landed, and will be seasonal. Look for good quality fish with bright eyes, a fresh sea smell and good colour on the gills. Fresh fish should be firm to the touch and smell of the sea, not strongly of fish!
The one cooking tool I would recommend is a good flexible metal fish slice spatula with a thin edged blade. This will make turning the fish easier, and help if the fish sticks to the grill.
Cook on a flat, hot surface which will attract the wood or smoke flavour from the charcoal or wood fire. A seasoned cast iron or steel Placha works perfectly. If using live fire, a good heavy cast iron pan will work well. If cooking on your standard grill bars, which I often also do, heat your bbq to a grilling temperature of 200-220°c, and lightly oil the bars just prior to placing the fish on the grill.
When it comes to preparing your fish, whole fish work well, along with thick fillets. Just remember to keep the skin, as this protects the fish when cooking. The only major exception to this are firm fleshed meaty monkfish tails which can be grilled directly without skin. To prevent fish sticking, dry the fish with kitchen paper and lightly oil before cooking.
Once the fish is on the grill, do not be tempted to move it around. The skin should crisp and char after around 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Smaller, thinner fillets can actually be cooked through completely on the skin side only and whilst the skin will crisp, and maybe blacken and char, overall it will protect the flesh of the fish beneath and is also very tasty.
Learn to know when fish is cooked, and what it looks like compared to the raw texture and colour. Raw fish will be almost translucent and cooked fish will turn opaque, this is easier to see on thicker pieces where the cooked flesh will be a different colour tone and will be seen on the edge creeping up from the cooked side where the heat is. Food safe temperatures for fish are given as 63°c which helps using an instant read thermometer to know the fish is safe and not overcooked and dried out.
My personal recommendations for charcoal or wood with fish are single species types:
Silver Birch – consummate favourite of many, which gives a light mineral like flavour that matches well with all seafood, particularly shellfish.
Ash - burns hot and long giving a light rounded smoke flavour and is a good all-rounder in wood and charcoal form.
Alder – long steady burning wood which gives medium fragrant smoke flavour suited to fish and white meats, works particularly well with salmon and sea trout.
I have included a seasonal guide below with some basic recipe ideas or cooking methods which you will hopefully want to give a few a try, as I do, cooking seafood on the bbq all year around…
January Whiting – white flaky fish often called ‘the chicken of the sea’, great grilled on a Plancha or directly over charcoal. Shellfish in season – mussels and oysters.
February Lemon Sole – fantastic bbq roasted whole on the bone. Also bass and bream cooked whole on the bbq. Shellfish in season – scallops, oysters and mussels.
March Pollack – great alternative for cod or haddock and works well in a fish pie and given a smokey edge when cooked or smoked on the bbq. Shellfish in season – clams, scallops, mussels and oysters.
April Squid - one of my absolute favourites on the bbq directly grilled simply with chilli, black pepper and garlic or with a Chermoula. Gurnard is also in season and is a very unrated fish which cooks well on the bbq and is a personal favourite of mine. Shellfish in season – clams, scallops, mussels and oysters.
May Monkish tails - very tasty cooked whole on the bone or as the two fillets, directly grilled for the classic bbq flavours or with a Cuban rub to be sliced and eaten in soft tacos with a tomato, onion and lime salsa. Shellfish in season – clams, scallops, mussels and oysters.
June Turbot - hard to beat cooked whole over live fire, and served with wild garlic butter. Brill is a very good alternative. Shellfish in season – lobster, oysters and scallops, all fantastic cooked on the shell over live fire.
July Mackerel - cooked whole or butterfly filleted simply seasoned with salt and black pepper, then grilled hot to char the skin and add the ultimate bbq flavour hit. Shellfish in season – crab, lobster and mussels.
August Red Mullet – stunning fish for the bbq, directly grilled whole with rosemary, salt and black pepper, definitely in my all-time top three. Shellfish in season – crab, lobster, oysters, scallops and mussels.
September Sardines, an oily fish and classic grilled whole particularly over live fire using olive wood or on the bbq using hot burning grilling charcoal like birch or even hornbeam. Shellfish in season – scallops, mussels, oysters and clams.
October Mussels are fantastic this time of year cooked as La Mouclade, a curry flavoured sauce with cognac served with warm fresh bread. Fish in season – Skate cooked classically cooked in brown butter served with capers, this can be cooked very successfully over live fire using a cast iron pan.
November Megrim Sole, English classic fish common on the South West coast with a sweet, refined flavour, again best cooked simply grilled or pan fried over the fire. Shellfish in season - Shellfish in season – clams, oysters, scallops and mussels.
December Hake, a firm favourite with a firm creamy white flesh which flakes well when cooked. Works best cooked on cast iron or a Plancha on the bbq or over a wood fire where it can be left to get a crust when cut as thick steaks across the bone or as large thick skin-on fillets, but be careful not to over-cook. Shellfish in season – clams, lobster, oysters, scallops and mussels.