Fish Friday: Get out the grill

smoked swordfish

smoked swordfish

It’s summertime and the smell of charcoal smoke again covers the land. (If you’re a gas griller, fine, but I am a charcoal girl to the core and the daughter of one, too.) Slide those burgers over and make room for fish – it’s easy to cook fish on the grill if you keep a few simple things in mind.

You can grill any kind of fish (whole or filleted), but if you’re just starting out, you may have better success by using thicker or steak-ier kinds of North Carolina-caught fish fillets. Try swordfish, mahi, drum, cobia, amberjack or yellowfin.

Place a slotted grill pan (the kind for grilling vegetables) on top of the grate to prevent losing the fish through the widely spaced grate. Get a nonstick pan, or spray it with nonstick spray before placing it on the grate to heat up.

To ensure against drying out and add flavor, give the fish a quick soak in a simple marinade before cooking. Citrus juices and olive oil are a nice combination. Let the fish marinate about 15 minutes, but not much longer – acids will “cook” the meat and make it rubbery after grilling.

Direct heat is fine, or if you’re uncertain, use indirect (it will take longer). Monitor the cooking, turning the fish only once, and use your trusty instant-read thermometer or a sharp knife to determine when the fish is done.

Keep things easy and summery by topping the cooked fish with a quick fruit salsa or sauce. You’ll find recipes for those in “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast.”

By the way, smoking fish at home isn’t difficult, even if you don’t have a smoker. I have detailed instructions in “Carolina Catch.” To learn more, and find more recipes, take a look at the book. And the Moose is on the loose! Visit Events at to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Grilled and chilled

feta-stuffed burgers on the grill

If The Hub and I keep getting invited to the annual Grillin’ and Chillin’ feed at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, we may have to convert. The Raleigh church holds a lot of food-related events – because Greeks love to eat, for heaven’s sake.

And they have members who know how to make proper dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). No, those weren’t grilled, but peaches were. As were herbed chicken, sausage, pork and the perennial favorite, feta-stuffed burgers. I’ve mentioned those before.

It’s not quite like the old church potlucks from when I was a kid. I don’t remember anyone there passing out lovely cocktails.

The church is gearing up for the annual Greek Festival Sept. 14-16 at the State Fairgrounds. When the festival started decades ago, it was a chance to sample exotic treats. There are more Greek restaurants now, but the home cooking-style food the festival offers is special. See more photos from the event here.

Food news roundup

You’d expect a certain level of elegance at picnics held before North Carolina Symphony outdoor concerts. Food matched to concert themes, shrimp with horseradish, silver candelabras. Read about it in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) here. If the concertgoers tried a little harder, they might reach the level of an Ole Miss football tailgate.

Corn strippers. No, not entertainers who peel off their husks. They’re essential for serious corn-from-the-cob removers. Read more in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here.

You’ve heard of eat local, now you can sauce local. The Independent Weekly has a colorful collection of local barbecue sauce makers. The pineapple and garlic in The Shizzle Jerk Marinade is quite intriguing. Read more here.

OK, I want to know why, in every grilling article, the main subject is a guy grinning in a baseball cap. Like the photo with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal article here. Women grill, too, y’all. We do not wear baseball caps because they spoil our coiffures. I do happen to own two grills (one charcoal, one portable gas) and a turkey fryer. I’d like to have a Big Green Egg, like the baseball-cap guy, but have not yet put my pennies together for one. As that founding griller Abigail Adams admonished, “remember the ladies.”

Vegan food in a slow-cooker? How crazy is that? Well, not very if you read HealthySlowCooking. Since I’m scanning the skies for dairy-free desserts for The Hub, who is allergic to dairy, this is a good find.

Ever wonder what happens to coupons after they accomplish their mission to save you money? The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) has the interesting answer here.

Boil before grilling? If you’re thinking about brats, the answer is yes, according to Bill Daley in the Chicago Tribune. Read the reasoning here.

Until someone manages to produce a bacon plant, we’ll have to make do with NCTomatoandGardenBlog by tomatomaniac Craig LeHoullier. Read through the list of plantings and drool.



Just follow the smoke

My husband’s coworker, John, had told us tales of the Grilling and Chilling event at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, N.C. for years. Always after the fact, leaving us to merely imagine the sizzling goodness.

This year, John produced “press passes” that served as our invitations. All we had to do was follow the cloud of smoke.

Food is a big deal at the church. I have to say, the potlucks I went to at the neighborhood Presbyterian church as a kid were nothing like this. For starters, there was nothing suspended in Jell-O.

Members grilled homemade Greek sausage with leeks, pepper-rubbed filet mignon and, of course, pork souvlaki with tzatziki. But there was also tandoori chicken with homemade chutney and raita, grilled Italian sausage with mango chutney, and Thai chicken with sesame noodles and cucumber salad. (The Thai chicken was marinated overnight in orange juice, red pepper, cilantro and natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up.)

John offered his classic feta burgers. (The recipe is here. Although he never makes them the same way twice.)

The event, held for the third year, started out of a desire to have more church events that were just fun, says member Mark Langford.

And the varied offerings? “People don’t realize that we have members from all over,” Langford says. “We have a lot of Serbs, Russians, even Africans and people from Eritrea. We probably have one of the most diverse church populations.”

See more photos of the event here.



If you grill it, they will eat

Charcoal smoke is in my blood. As a kid, my father and I, in coats and gloves, basted ribs with barbecue sauce on the grill in January. I have often thought that I would eat anything – anything – if it were cooked over hot coals.

I put the theory to the test last weekend.

The vegetables are beginning to pour into the farmers market, and I wanted to make an entree using grilled vegetables, with an Italian touch. It needed some protein. Left to myself, I would have layered some fresh mozzarella between the grilled vegetables, but that wouldn’t fly with the dairy-allergic husband.

Well, I thought, there is that white stuff in a block that I like about as much as wet chalk: Tofu. People have tried to convince me for years that my hatred of the bean curd Jell-O is unreasonable. It is not. Vegetarians have told me that it has no flavor on its own and just picks up what you put on it. Wrong. It does have a flavor – one resembling wet weeds. The only recipe up to now in which I’ve liked tofu was a chocolate pie made with the silken variety, although making it almost burned up my blender.

But I considered extra-firm tofu. Would grilling cover its many sins? The answer, to quote a wise copy editor friend: It didn’t suck absolutely. It wasn’t fresh mozzarella, but it wasn’t hideous. Grilling added smoke to the flavor and firmed up the texture (one of my issues). Here’s what I did.

Two eggplant, three yellow pattypan squash, a small red onion and a weird variety of green squash I got from the CSA, cut in about 1/2-inch slices. No need to peel the eggplant unless you’re swimming in extra time and have nothing else to do. Rubbed with plenty of olive oil. Griledl until brown on each side. I used a perforated grill pan to prevent slices from falling through the grate. I put them in a low oven to keep warm. While the vegetables cooked, I made a sauce. I thought I was grabbing a bag of homemade tomato sauce from my freezer, but it turned out to be frozen cherry tomatoes. No matter. I boiled them down with garlic, marjoram and lots of fresh basil until they thickened. After the vegetables, extra-firm tofu in 1/2-inch slices, rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with marjoram and garlic powder. I grilled them until they didn’t look like tofu anymore, but perhaps oddly shaped chicken breast. Layered it up, poured over the sauce. Nice, even with the four-letter food included.

Bye-bye yellow haze

The yellow haze of pine pollen lifted this weekend, and even the pink and purple azaleas in my yard seemed brighter. It would no longer require a complete hose-down and wardrobe change to sit outside, so the grill was running. First, grilled asparagus. It’s the only way to cook asparagus. Roasting in the oven is OK; steaming is a waste of a good vegetable. But grilling, with its crispy-smoky goodness – that is asparagus heaven. Don’t bother with the other methods. All the grilled asparagus needed was a little salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

I got some thick, meaty fillets of North Carolina striped bass at the Western Wake Farmers Market. Those I marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and chopped ginger and garlic. Never marinate fish too long or the texture will become mushy – 15 minutes is plenty. The fish was fairly thick, so it took, maybe 6 to 10 minutes to cook. Better to undercook slightly – and touch up any pieces that need it in the microwave indoors – than overcook fish on the grill.

I put some North Carolina shrimp, boiled in beer and Old Bay, next to it. And a bowl of spring greens (kale, tatsoi, baby spinach, leaves from tender Japanese turnips) sauteed in olive oil, garlic and ginger. A meal that threatened to be healthy, although I wouldn’t hold that against something that tasted so good.