No fishy business here – just our guide to cooking the perfect fish on the BBQ this Summer
If you really want to impress at your next BBQ, forget the humble sausage, skip the chop and pass on the rissoles – it’s got to be fish. A good bit of fish, grilled to perfection over the flames, is what summer barbecues are made for.
For advice on how to get it right, we turned to two of our seafood pros. Here’s what we learned.
Go straight to the source
With fish, that means asking a simple question: “Where’s the seafood coming from?”. Top-quality seafood is all about provenance, says Executive Chef of Nineteen at The Star on the Gold Coast Uday Huja, a product that has been sustainably sourced, wild-caught or ethically farmed is always going to result in a tastier outcome for your BBQ.
“If you’re sourcing an organic chicken versus a factory chicken, you’re going to have a much better result,” Uday says. “Similarly, in seafood, those line-caught fish are going to be much better than a product that has been dragnetted or something along those lines.” When looking for good seafood, a fishmonger or local fisherman’s co-op is your best bet.
Start with fresh-as fish
We are lucky in Australia to have so much good, fresh fish at our fingertips. It’s something that Peter Robertson makes full use of as Executive Chef at Flying Fish at The Star Sydney. In Northern Europe or America, he says, vicious winter temperatures and weather means fishing is strictly seasonable – most product is ‘FAS’ (an industry term for Frozen At Sea). By comparison, he estimates that as much of 90 per cent of the seafood Australians have access to is coming to them fresh. “We really take it for granted,” he says.
To make sure your seafood is as fresh as it gets, Peter suggests going for a whole fish. “It’s very difficult to spot quality in a fillet … Even if you want to get fillets, purchase the whole fish and have the fishmonger fillet them.” Look for a clean fish with bright eyes, bright red gills and nice, firm flesh, Peter says. The smell is also a good indication: “The fish shouldn’t smell of anything but the ocean,” he says. “Fresh ocean, not low tide.”
Go for the King
Peter and Uday both have a preferred fish for the BBQ – King George whiting. This delicious fish is native to the southern waters of Australia, and is a favourite with anglers in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.
Uday likes to butterfly the whiting, to grill over pecan wood fire on the grill at Nineteen at The Star. Rather than cutting the flesh off the backbone – creating two separate fillets – butterflying involves deboning the whole fish to create a presentable double fillet.
Uday seasons the fillet lightly before putting it on the grill, misting it lightly with apple cider vinegar as it cooks. Once it’s done, he dresses it with a mix of soft herbs such as fresh dill, capers, shallots and finishes with a drizzle of good-quality olive oil and lemon. This simple approach lets the quality of the fish do the heavy lifting.
Peter favours King George whiting because of its thin, delicate fillets. “I always have too much fuel on the BBQ and it’s usually too hot, so after a brief minute over the coals, the skin is blistered and the flesh is just cooked through,” he says. Overcooking fish tends to make it dry and tasteless – so grilling it at such high heat for a short time helps lock in moisture and flavour. Thanks to the very mild, slightly sweet taste of King George whiting, there’s no need to go over the top on the seasoning front, either.
“Some smoke, lemon and salt really and simply, elevates the fish” Peter Robertson
Be clever with your leftovers
Become a true BBQ master (and prove your eco credentials) by going fin-to-tail with your fish. Cooking with the whole fish on the BBQ, as Peter recommends, gives the most opportunity to reduce wastage. People are happy to eek out every morsel from a whole crab or shell a prawn, Peter says, but don’t think twice about throwing out the heads and flavoursome collars from a barbecued fish. Don’t be shy – get a nice dipping sauce and go fishing for those tasty morsels. Even when you think you’ve picked the fish clean, Peter says you can still get a surprisingly large amount of good flesh off a large fish by scraping down the spine – perfect to make a delectable fish burger patty for your next barbecue.
Feel like making your next summer BBQ a real seafood feast? Try our chef’s tips for how to BBQ prawns like a pro.