Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bronzino on the Grill

It's been a dry winter here in the San Francisco Bay Area since the first of the year. Usually we get just about all of our rain between December and March so having had one of the driest winters would have been brutal were it not to be following one of the wettest autumns in many years. Droughts suck but the upside has been an unusually warm ending to the winter this year. With the clock change last weekend and the beautiful weather this week it's been a perfect time to bring the Big Green Egg out of hibernation for the new grilling season. 
One of our first grilling feasts of the year is usually a grilled bronzino. I discovered the amazing flavor of the Mediterranean bass several years ago when I ordered one from the menu of the old Aqua restaurant in SF's Financial District. Since then it's been my favorite whole fish to either order in a restaurant or cook at home, its natural flavor about as good as I've found in any seafood. When the Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley started carrying it on a regular basis, I made it a point to learn how to cook it. This recipe is a result of working out an amalgamation of several approaches I've tried over the years.
Here the cavity of the fish is stuffed with fresh Greek oregano and thinly sliced lemon, each from the garden, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and high-quality olive oil. The herbs are kept in the fish with butcher twine and the fish is coated with the oil before cooking.

Since an important part of enjoying a whole fish that you prepare yourself is deboning it once it's been cooked, you may want to check this excellent demonstration of how to do so:
How to debone whole cooked fish

Clear eyes, no?

a great specimen this one was

stuffing with oregano and lemon slices

all dressed up and ready to go

1 whole bronzino, about 1 pound
bunch of fresh oregano or thyme branches
1 lemon sliced very thinly
kosher salt
fresh-cracked black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Make sure to pick only a fresh fish, looking for a clean, bright surface, pink gills, and clear eyes with no 'fishy' aroma. Have the fishmonger gut, clean, and scale the fish while leaving the head intact.
At home, rinse the fish under running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Open the cavity of the fish and season with salt and pepper. Layer the herbs and lemon slices in the cavity overlapping in a row then wrap it close with twine to keep them in while grilling. Oil the surface of the fish well and season with a bit more salt and pepper.
Prepare the fire in the grill. When the coals are hot and ready, oil the grate well, then put the fish on to cook on one side for about 5 minutes then turn it over; the cooked side should be pretty well seared. If you used enough oil on the grate and the fire is hot enough, it shouldn't stick at all. Cook for about another 5 minutes or until it just starts to flake when it's lightly poked at.
Determining when to pull fish from heat is a learned art. Don't be discouraged if it takes a while to master as it's very much worth living through mistakes and taking the time to do so. Once you get it down, you'll hardly ever fail afterwards.
Debone the fish prior to serving.
Even after the best deboning it's inevitable that the fish will still have quite a few small bones in it so eat cautiously.

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