Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grilled striped bass and asparagus

I thought I would give this a shot last night... I was at Costco doing my monthly meat stockpile and came across fresh (farm raised) striped bass. I used to catch these when I was kid fishing on the sloughs around Skaggs Island when my Dad was stationed there in the 70s. The ones I caught were much bigger, but I figured what the heck, I wanted to try grilling one.

I looked up a quick recipe at Cooks Illustrated for grilling sea bass. It was simple: Scale and clean the fish, make a series of shallow cuts through the skin and into the flesh, about two inches apart, rub the fish in a light coating of olive oil, and season with your favorite spices. The Cook's Illustrated recipe called for grilling directly over the coals (or hot part of the grill) uncovered for six minutes on each side. That certainly would have done the trick in warm summer temperatures, but I wanted to add some smoke and it was only 45 degrees out, so I altered the recipe a bit.

I cleaned the fish up and scaled it, cut my slices and seasoned with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, Johnny's Seafood Seasoning, and a healthy dose of Lemon Pepper seasoning. I soaked about a cup and a half of hickory chips (I would have used apple wood if I had some) for about 15 minutes. I only needed a small amount of wood smoke because the cook time is short, otherwise I would have soaked the wood chips much longer.

Meanwhile, I steamed the fresh asparagus (*see tip for preparing fresh asparagus below) for about 4 minutes and then took them off the heat and into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. I drained it and patted it dry, then coated with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Notice in the picture above, I laid my asparagus out on a pan covered in holes that will allow the smoke to reach the bottom and top of the vegetables without having to worry about them falling through my grill rack. You could use a cake rack or anything with small enough holes to prevent the asparagus from falling though. (BTW, Sue wanted me to clarify that the pans and colander used in those pictures are solely for my smoker. She keeps the nice stuff indoors)

Preparing the grill, I used a starter chimney full of plain Kingsford charcoal. When the coals were grey, I poured them out onto a rack in far left of the smoke chamber on the smoker grill. When I grill meats as opposed to smoking them I like to build my fire in the smoke chamber instead of the fire box and I usually cook with indirect heat when I am adding smoke to the recipe. The left side of the photo below is the front of my smoker/grill (it was dark, so it is hard to tell).

I placed the fish closest to the fire and the asparagus was situated directly below the smoke stack on the cover of my grill. I do that to maximize the amount of smoke is pulled across the food as it cooks. Finally, I threw the soaked wood chips on the coals and closed the lid.

Because I cooked the meat indirectly and the temp was 45 degrees outside, I increased the amount of cooking time on the grill. I went 10 minutes on the first side (until the smoke stack was only slightly smoking, which indictaes the wood chips are almost done smoking) and flipped the fish for another 8 minutes on the other side side (make sure to oil your grill before cooking and use two spatulas to flip the fish). Then I moved the fish over the coals and cooked uncovered for another four minutes on each side. I also moved the asparagus closer to the fire to stay warm while finished.

The fish is done when the meat flakes away from the bone, and the asparagus takes almost exactly the same amount of time.

While the fish was finishing over the coals, I whipped up a sauce for the asparagus on the stove. You can use almost anything you like, but I decided to try a simple Balsamic recipe. I used two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of soy sauce and one teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar. I heated it on the stove and then turned off the heat and added the asparagus to keep it warm while I plated the fish. (I also cooked a boxed wild rice and mushroom dish while I was grilling the fish).

To serve, as with any whole fish, I peeled off the skin first and flaked the meat away from the bone with a fork. You have to be especially careful and pay attention to the bones. Sea bass has a lot of sharp bones. I missed an entire fin last night and wound up with a mouth full of bones. Thanks goodness Sue's didn't have near the bones I had.

BTW, next time I cook this, I am going to fillet the fish to avoid the bone issues. The only difference in cooking fillets as opposed to whole fish, is that you don't ever flip the fish. You cook it skin side down (with no oil on the grill) until the meat flakes with a fork and then you can lift the meat off of the skin with a spatula and use your grill brush to clean the skin off the grill later. I'll demonstrate that technique soon with a couple stealhead fillets I picked up yesterday as well. Below is a picture of the finished fish without the skin...

(*Asparagus Tip: When preparing to cook fresh asparagus never use a knife to cut the woody ends off the bottom. You want to snap them instead. Simply hold the raw asparagus with your fingertips and snap the bottom off. The break will naturally occur where the woody portion of the stem ends. It is a fool proof way to ensure tender asparagus every time.)


Rob said...

Where did you get your cooking degree? That looks gourmet indeed. I never thought about putting the coals directly in the smoke chamber on an offset firebox smoker. That is one limitation of Traegers that you can't grill with them. You've inspired me to do seafood and veggies now. I'm going to need another income to support my habit.

Bent said...

Ha! I learned to do it cheap. A lot of veggies are excellent when grilled. You name it, and I have probably grilled it. Peppers are awesome on the grill. I was going to throw some on with the steaks last night, but I spaced it. I'll do one whole post on grilled stuffed peppers later (I bought some of those at Costco too).