How a little seasoning in the right place can turn a meal into a dish.
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, now they tell us the meat we grill in our backyards can give us cancer!
They say bad stuff is created when fat drips down and sizzles on a gas burner or on hot coals. The resulting smoke imparts a scrumptious flavor to the meat but, sadly, it also imparts a coating of unpronounceable cancer-causing agents—PAHs for short.
Wait! That’s not all the bad news. An entirely different set of carcinogens, nicknamed HCAs, joins in when meat is cooked over very high heat, either on the grill or under a broiler. Well-done meat is especially vulnerable because the longer the cooking time the thicker the HCAs.
Fortunately, all those dire warnings apply principally to red meat and poultry—meat with a lot of fat. We fish-grillers don’t need to worry very much because most of our good fish are lean varieties that have no fat to drip, hence no PAHs. Not even the few fatty species that are likely to turn up on a Florida grill—kingfish, mackerel, mullet—sweat out enough fat to cause us great concern. As for those bad old HCAs, we can ignore them too, because fanciers of fine fish simply never cook their fillets well-done. Just enough cooking time to remove the pink is all we need.
So, then, does all this mean we must remove steaks, hamburgers and chickens from our barbecues, and worry about our fish too? Breathe easy. It does not. After scaring us to death with their dire warnings about the health hazards of barbecued provender, the same researchers advise us, almost as an afterthought, that we can make everything we grill perfectly safe from alphabetical menaces simply by marinating in advance of cooking. Marinades seem to draw out the HCAs, while at the same time coating the food with protection from PAHs. The scientists can’t explain just how marinades do this humanitarian work, but they say experiments have proved it’s true, and I’m getting hungry enough to take their word. So let’s marinate, and in the process get rid of even that last tiny bit of concern about carcinogens in grilled fish.
Most things that are good for us taste terrible, but not so with marinades, which improve both the flavor and tenderness of meat. Fish doesn’t need any tenderizing so it requires only a short period of marinating to impart the chosen flavor. Don’t believe those numerous recipes you might find that advise marinating fish for several hours or overnight, same as beef or chicken. Ten minutes is enough for fish; an hour at most.
It’s easy to whip up a special marinade of your own. Start with one part olive or canola oil and one part acid, either vinegar or lemon/lime juice. Add flavoring spices of your own choosing—basil, rosemary, oregano, whatever—and there you have it. If you’re in a hurry, just use bottled Italian dressing, which, after all, is but a mix of oil, vinegar and spices not of your own choosing. The marinade family, though, is a big one. Other prominent members include soy sauce (adds color and saltiness), white wine (adds a touch of class to fish marinade), and horseradish, hot sauce or hot pepper if that’s your thing. If you use wine, you should reduce or eliminate the vinegar.
Naturally, there are popular recipes for marinades too. I’ll toss out a couple. The quantities may not fit the amount of fish your want to grill, so double or triple them as necessary. Figure three tablespoons of marinade for each pound of fish. If you have too much, simply refrigerate the excess in a capped container. But don’t—repeat don’t—save any that has actually been used for marinating.
Any sort of ceramic, plastic or glass vessel can serve as a marinade bowl, but my favorite is simply a closed plastic bag. Work the fish well with your hands to make sure all surfaces are coated then place the container in the fridge until grilling time.
SOY SAUCE MARINADE
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley or
1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup orange juice
Combine the ingredients and marinate the fish for up to 30 minutes. Too long in the marinade can make fine grained fish mushy.
Now here’s one with a little more kick:
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. horseradish
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Although all ingredients may simply be mixed together well, I prefer to use a blender, blending the first eight ingredients together quickly, then gradually blending in the oil. FS