Grilled Fish the Mediterranean Way
From The Minimalist Cooks at Home (Canada, UK), by Mark Bittman.
It doesn't matter much where you go or to whom you talk: When fishermen, chefs, or home cooks are proud of their fish, they don't fuss with it. One extremely simple preparation, common throughout the Mediterranean, is fish grilled on a bed of fennel stalks. The technique, undoubtedly as old as grilling itself, solves a couple of problems at once: It seasons the fish subtly and without effort, and it helps prevent the fish from sticking to the grill and falling apart. In fact, this method allows you to grill even relatively delicate fillets like cod, usually among the most challenging because of their tendency to fall apart as they near doneness.
Keys To Success:
This is one of those recipes in which the shopping may take you longer than the cooking, because fennel stalks or those from dill, which are nearly as good are almost always discarded by grocers. When you buy a bulb of fennel, you're buying the bottom, trimmed of its long stalks; when you buy a bunch of dill, you're buying the feathery tops, trimmed of the stalks that support them. Because this recipe requires some of those stalks, you will probably have to speak directly to a produce manager, visit a farm stand or a friend's garden, or simply get lucky.
It's worth spending the few minutes it takes to convert a single halibut steak into fillets. A good fishmonger will do this for you, but it's easy: Just use a sharp, thin-bladed knife and cut straight down, following the outline of the bone; each halibut steak will produce four fillets. If you buy a one-and-a-half-inch-thick piece of fish, each fillet will be the perfect serving size. Alternatively, use striped bass (preferably skin-on and scaled), monkfish, cod (also best with the skin on), or any other fillet with some substance. Do not attempt to grill flatfish such as flounder or sole.
4 to 6 fennel or dill stalks, each at least 6 inches long
Four 6-ounce halibut fillets, or 1-1/2 pounds any white-fleshed fish fillet, such as striped bass, monkfish, or cod
Salt and cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fennel or dill seeds
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Preheat a charcoal or gas grill; the fire should be quite hot, and the grill rack about 4 inches from the heat source.
When the grill is ready, make a bed of the fennel or dill stalks. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt and cayenne to taste and lay it (skin side down, if there is a skin side) directly onto the fennel or dill. Close the grill if possible and cook, without turning, until the fish is done it will be just about opaque all the way through, and offer no resistance to a thin-bladed knife about 10 minutes.
While the fish is cooking, mince or grind the fennel or dill seeds. Cut about 1 inch off each end of the lemon and juice those pieces; slice the remaining lemon as thinly as you can.
When the fish is done, remove it from the grill, leaving as much of the stalks behind as possible (some of the burned fronds will adhere to the fish; this is fine). Sprinkle the fish with the fennel or dill seeds, then decorate it with the lemon slices. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and serve.
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings