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Grilling whole fish


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First post on eGullet - need your combined expertise!

I bought a live (now dead) 4.5-pound farmed American catfish yesterday at the Asian store. I want to put it on the grill for the 4th. I don't like waste, so I definitely will be doing skin- and head- on. After running some tests with a practice fish last night, I've concluded some kind of marinade or brine is in order, probably something spicy, because the fish holds up well to strong flavors.

My questions:

Besides a well-cleaned, well-oiled grill, any tips on avoiding sticking?

Any recommendations on marinade/brine ingredients or timing?

The **big** one - should I precook the fish?

I'll definitely take some pictures of the finished product; thanks in advance for the help and good luck on all of your fantastic grilling/barbecuing plans today!

I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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I would not pre-cook the fish. How thick is it at the fattest point? You may want to cook it off to the side of the heat or wherever your grill is not super hot and finish it over the hotter section.

Can you get you hands on a handled grill basket like this? - that is the best way to avoid the sticking and tearing. If no basket to be found, skip the tongs and use a large spatula for turning.

Rather than a marinade I would just rub the inside with your flavorings. That skin is pretty tough - doubt much would penetrate.

Edited by heidih
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A quick update.

Heidi, I think you might be right about the marinade not being able to penetrate. It makes sense, seeing as how fish are... you know... waterproof. On the other hand, catfish respirate through their skin... Anyway, I really want to get the flavor into the meat, so I decided to cut slices into flesh and pour a mixture over the fish and into the crevices. I went with an Asian theme - coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, lots of herbs, and plenty of salt to aid in penetration, and three types of spice, hoping capsaicin manages to sink in one way or another.

Here are some pictures. I need to figure out a good hosting solution for hi-res stuff later, but hopefully these will suffice for the moment.

More to come after I grill this sucker!

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I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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I should give myself a slap to the head for not thinking of the slits - good plan. Let us know how the grilling goes. I love the flavor profile for your marinade.

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this is not re the Cat

but the best 'grilled' Salmon I ever made was based on Jamie Oliver's Newspaper method:

gut the whole fish.

stuff the abdominal cavity with a lot of fresh herbs a lot!!!

then as you might be at the Sea Shore or not

as the embers from you fire die

you wrap the fish in a lot of '''pistine''' newspaper that you dipped in water and then you lay this on the coals.

Ive done this twice. Ive sent this to my friends in Norway and they say this is the Best!

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Alright folks, here's the final report.

I marinated/brined the fish (recipe below), then grilled it over medium-high heat on the grill. It took about 10 minutes direct heat and another 10 minutes indirect heat (the grill registered 350 degrees) to cook the fish through.

The result:

The flesh was delicious and sweet, but some parts ended up overcooked while the inner parts were a little underdone. The skin was definitely edible, but not unctuously crisp like seared salmon skin. I flipped every minute or so and drizzled canola oil on the fish each time I flipped, so I had very little problem with sticking, Unfortunately, even though I basted the fish with the marinade three times per side (about every 4 minutes), the flavor still didn't seem to soak fully into the meat.

I appreciate any thoughts on future improvements, that or just enjoy the pictures!

My thoughts:

Next time, I think I'll go with a dry rub with more salt and flavorings, then present the sweet and acid flavors as a sauce. I think I'd also precook the fish, probably either via deep frying or basted with hot oil.

The recipe I used:

Get a 4.5 pound catfish. Kill and clean it. Cut slits into the flesh at about 1" intervals, clean to the bone.

Heat the following over medium heat:

12 oz sweetened coconut milk

3 tbsp peanut butter

3 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp salt

3 tbsp honey or brown sugar

Remove marinade from heat and add the following:

2 tbsp sliced scallions

1/4 cup sliced basil

1 medium habanero or thai chile (about 1.5 tbsp)

2 tbsp sriracha (rooster) sauce

Allow marinade to cool. Find a really big bowl or waterproof plastic bag. Put the fish in the bag. Marinate for 3 hours in the fridge (take it out for the last hour to let it come up to temperature and promote even cooking).

Heat grill. Rub lots of canola oil all over the grate. Put the fish on the grill. Flip every minute or so. Drizzle oil on the fish before each flip to avoid sticking. Baste the fish with remaining marinade every third flip. Cook until internal temperature registers 130F. You may need to put the fish on the upper rack and let it bake over indirect heat to get the desired temperature. Once the temperature is right, remove from the heat and let rest until the internal temperature reaches 140F. Serve.

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I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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Can't say that I'm a huge fan of farmed catfish, and it's not the best choice for grilling, mainly due to its dimensions. Thinner, flatter fish are a better choice for grilling, as you won't end up with the overcooked/undercooked tendencies you discovered. The catfish skin won't behave like salmon skin, either--the two have very different texture/properties. (Try steaming the whole catfish next time.)

To keep the skin on grilled fish, you'll want to 1)have a very, very clean & well-oiled grill surface and 2)liberally oil the fish's skin as well. Use a wide implement to turn the fish, too. That said, I lose the skin on fish about half the time! A good solution, to me: grill thick filets with the skin & scales still on. The scales protect the skin from (untasty) charring, hold in a bit of moisture, and save you the step of scaling!

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Nice job Kevin!

I'll have to give it a try sometime! I've never had grilled catfish, but had a dish "Shanghai Catfish" which is a whole catfish fried and served in red vinegarette that was just amazing (was a signature dish at "Red Light" in Chicago). Very awesome indeed. To me the texture of the fish was if it had been steamed.

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago

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Todd - I actually wok-deep-fried a 1.5-lb catfish July 3rd as a test run and did a chile-based sweet and sour sauce. It was much better than the grilled version texturally, but I still didn't feel like it the flavors really got into the fish. I'll definitely post a recipe if I do manage to triangulate on something worth sharing.

HungryC - good points. Maybe next time if I have such a big fish I'll ask for it be cut into steaks and grill them that way...

I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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