The long Fourth of July weekend is looming and many a barbecue or picnic to celebrate our nation's birth are planned. Although we're technically not even at the halfway point in the summer, serving more hamburgers and hot dogs may not be quite as appealing as it was for Memorial Day. Why not mix it up a little and grill some fish or shellfish instead?
Charleston Santos, manager and seafood buyer for Mazzeo's Meat and Seafood at Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, Mass., said that although all fish can be cooked on the grill, he recommends using a sushi-grade, white, firm fish — halibut, swordfish, red snapper or grouper. He added that tuna and salmon also work well.
"Halibut is my favorite," he said, adding he grills at home almost every day, year-round. "It's a rich-flavored fish and you don't have to do much with it. It's so rich you don't need to add flavor to it. Keep it as simple as you can."
When Santos grills halibut, he coats it with olive oil and sprinkles it with some salt and pepper before placing it flesh-down on a hot grill. He cooks it for 6 to 8 minutes on each side. "When you put the flesh side down first, it sears in the juices and they stay inside," he said.
He uses the same technique for tuna; grilling a 1 1/2-inch tuna steak for 3 to 4 minutes per side. "It will still be pink in the middle," he said.
When it comes to grilling swordfish, Santos prefers to sprinkle the swordfish steak with salt and pepper and then cover it with mayonnaise. He then grills it for 3 minutes on each side and then flips it over once again for another minute. "The mayonnaise forms a crust and keeps the fish moist," he said.
If you're looking to grill a whole fish, Santos recommends branzini, a Greek fish that weighs about a pound each. He stuffs the fish with fresh herbs — thyme, cilantro and rosemary, and slices of fresh lemon. The whole fish is coated with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. It is then cooked on a medium-high grill for 15 minutes, flipping it over several times. When done, Santos said it will be very soft and almost falling apart.
Soft-shell clams and oysters are also good — and quick — for grilling, Santos said. When cooking shellfish, the grill should be medium hot. "When the they open up, they're done," he said, adding that steamers take about 3 minutes.
He said the idea is to grill shellfish plain and then dress them up by brushing a sauce over the open, grilled clams or oysters. For 4 to 5 pounds of clams or oysters, he mixes 1/4 cup white wine, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon cumin and the juice of one lemon.
Shrimp is the easiest shellfish to cook, according to Santos. He mixes 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, a clove of garlic, minced, with a pound of 13-15 already shelled and deveined shrimp. Once on the grill, they are cooked for a total of 5 minutes, being flipped after 2 1/2 minutes.
Santos said it was also possible to grill lobster. Split them in half lengthwise and, because the flesh is so delicate, place shell-side down on a medium hot grill and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, turn over for 2 minutes. While grilling the lobster shell-side down, brush it with a marinade of 1 tablespoon honey, 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. (This recipe is good for 2 lobsters; it can be adjusted for a more.)
For a "wow!" Fourth of July celebration, try a traditional New England clambake. For 10 to 12 pounds of clams, start by digging a hole in your backyard 12 inches deep and a foot across and add a layer of charcoal to the bottom of the hole, Santos said. When the coals are glowing red and there are no flames, push some to the side and add a layer of wet seaweed to the coals in the center. On top of the seaweed, add the clams and cover with another layer of seaweed. Cover with the hot coals from the side and cook for 15 minutes. The corn and potatoes can be cooked separately, he said.