February 28, 2017
Jim Hunt, proprietor of Fiddler's Restaurant in Steinhatchee, has a knack for delivering perfectly cooked fish. The grill marks are well-defined, yet the interior of the fish is never over or undercooked. According to the chef, his success has a lot to do with the fish species he chooses to grill—and to his patience at the grill. Jim shared some of his secrets with me.
Not to overcook your fish, be sure to select cuts that are not too thin. Grouper fillets or steaks from cobia, amberjack, mahi-mahi, wahoo and swordfish perform well. A very hot grill is essential to successful fish grilling, as is leaving the fish over the fire long enough to caramelize the surface that contacts the grill's grate. If you pull the fish away from the grate too soon, it will certainly stick. If you pull it too late, it will be burned. Coating the fish with a thin coating of olive oil helps the process and almost guarantees that your fish will be served in picture-perfect condition. Just as you've learned to judge the doneness of a grilled beef steak, you'll learn to recognize when it's time to turn your fish and whether it's done or not. An easy way to tell if your fish is ready to turn is to watch its edges. You'll be able to see the edges cook and when they're fully cooked, it's time to turn. You can also test by gently lifting the fish fillet or steak with a spatula. If it comes loose, it's time to turn. If it's still stuck, let it be. Final doneness is usually determined by the touch of a finger. Don't let your fish cook so long on the second side that it's hard to the touch. A slight bit of spring-back is usually right.
Perfectly grilled fish deserves a nice presentation. Consider plating your fish in a pool of tasty sauce. One of Jim's favorites for grilled fish is his own version of Argentine Chimichurri. Its fresh, spicy flavor adds to that of the fresh fish, but doesn't cover it up. Add a cool cucumber salad to round out your meal and you'll soon have all your friends and family begging you to continue in your role as champion of the grill. FS
1 cup (loosely packed) Italian parsley
1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves
6 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 tsp. powdered cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Chop the dry ingredients coarsely in a food processor. Then, with the processor still running, add the Tabasco sauce, red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to attain the desired consistency. One-half cup of oil is a good start. The thicker the sauce, the more intense the flavor will be. This simple recipe makes enough sauce to serve with four 8-ounce pieces of fish. And it can be made a day or two in advance of your cookout and refrigerated.
I've never understood why anyone would want to put sugar into a cucumber salad. That said, thinly slice some small Kirby cucumbers and a bit of red onion and then toss them with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, dried oregano and crushed red pepper. And no sugar!
This Sportsman's Kitchen Column appeared in the April, 2012 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine.