Mr. Tess went to the store to buy ground beef for burgers (which were delicious) and came home with a package of bluegill that someone had special ordered at the fish counter. Apparently she’d asked for fillets and these were whole fish—I don’t know why the fish-guy couldn’t fillet them, nor why the woman couldn’t, but we got some very pretty fish!
Simply salting, then grilling fish is a good way to enjoy its delicate flavor. Salting fish before cooking removes unpleasant “fishy” juice and firms the flesh. Sea salt is best for this purpose. The quantity of salt depends on whether the fish is oily or lean, old or very fresh. A general guide is 2% of the weight of the fish: a little less than a teaspoon for a half pound fish. Place the fish on a rack so they won’t bath in their own juice. Sprinkle the fish with half the salt, turn, and sprinkle with the remainder. Let the fish stand for about 20 minutes. Allow more time for oily or thick fish. Rinse the fish in brine (1 1/2 Tablespoons salt in a quart of water). Dry the fish well. Grill or broil. Serve with grated daikon tinted with a little shoyu, lemon wedges, vinegar-pickled vegetables, or ginger.
In Japan, favorite fish to grill whole include aji (horse mackerel), iwashi (sardines), ayu (a sweet-tasting freshwater fish), sanma (pike), nishin (herring), saba (mackerel), hirame (sole), and tai (sea bream). Large fish, filleted and cut into smaller pieces include buri (yellowtail), suzuki (sea bass), kajikimaguro (swordfish), and sawara (Spanish mackerel).
Classic Salt-Grilled Fish
Sakana no Shioyaki
- Four 8-inch iwashi (sardines) or 6-ounce swordfish steaks
- 1 cup grated daikon
- 4 teaspoons shoyu (soy sauce)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Rinse the sardines under cold running water to remove bacteria from the skin. Scale the fish. Cut open the belly, and remove the gills and intestine. Rinse the inside of the belly. Rinse the fish again in salted water. Dry with paper towels.
If you are using the swordfish steaks, rinse them in cold salted water quickly, then dry them.
If you are not cooking the fish immediately, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate.
A half hour before serving, salt the fish as described above allowing it to stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, fire-up your grill or broiler. Heat the grill rack or broiler pan to a high temperature. This prevents the fish from sticking to the rack.
Rinse the fish in brine, dry well. Place the fish on the hot rack and cook with high heat until golden. Turn once. An inch thick fish takes about 8 to 10 minutes total cooking time.
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