Once you’ve sampled rockfish fresh from the grill, you’ll be a believer forever. Even the most die-hard fish-and-chips enthusiast is sure to savor the combination of savory char and delicate flesh.
Lemon ginger grilled rockfish takes the flavor sensation to a whole new level. We’ve included our favorite recipe below, along with some tips on how to prepare the fish for perfect results every time.
What Is Rockfish?
Even if you’ve never heard of rockfish, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with it. That’s because it’s an umbrella term, referring to over 100 varieties of fish.
Rockfish are similar to bass, with their large mouths and bulbous eyes. Most have a series of venomous spines running along their backs. They can range in color from a reddish shade to deep black. All can be distinguished by their firm, mild-tasting flesh that pairs beautifully with many different flavors.
In spite of its positive qualities, rockfish can be exceedingly difficult to prepare–or at least to prepare well. Unlike its fattier cousins (such as salmon), its flesh is very lean, which means it can dry out quickly. It also has shorter muscle fibers and less connective tissue than most animal proteins. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re doing before simply slapping the filets on the grill.
Tips on How to Cook Rockfish
Choose the freshest catch available
Avoid the fish counter if there are no customers milling about. A busy fish market means that the product is moving quickly, giving you a better shot at freshness.
Give the fish a good sniff. There should be no hint of ammonia (what some people refer to as a “fishy” smell). Fresh fish has no detectable odor at all.
Also, take a look at the storage area. You want the fish to be iced down properly, but not sitting in water. Now would also be a good time to check whether the fish is farm-raised or wild. The latter can be obtained more easily, but wild-caught fish is richer in vitamins and minerals.
As we mentioned, the relative lack of connective tissue means rockfish can dry out easily. As a matter of comparison, if you overcook steak by a few degrees, it’s not likely to affect the quality of the meat. If you were to overcook rockfish by five degrees, your dinner would be ruined.
Fish should be removed from the grill when it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. It’s fine to remove it a bit sooner, especially if the fish is labeled sushi-grade, which means it can be eaten raw.
When in doubt, use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish. As you gain confidence, you should be able to gauge when the fish is done based on appearance and instinct.
For more helpful hints on when to remove fish from the grill, take a look at this video tutorial.
Always oil your grilling grates
If the cooking grates aren’t sufficiently lubricated, the fish will stick to them when you try to flip them over. Not only will this ruin your presentation, it will create a mess that you’ll have to deal with after dinner.
Use the sharpest knife you have
If you plan to grill fish on a regular basis, invest in a good sharp knife with a flexible blade. You should also have a whetstone on hand so you can sharpen your knives as often as possible. This is especially important if you plan to fillet the fish yourself.
Recipe for Lemon Ginger Grilled Rockfish
The tangy citrus flavor of the lemon serves as a fabulous counterpoint to the warmth of the ginger. If you can’t find lemongrass, increase the lemon zest to 1 tablespoon.
Serve with jasmine rice and lightly steamed vegetables.
4 6-ounce rockfish filets, skin removed
For the marinade:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemongrass, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Lemon slices, for garnish
1. Trim the rockfish filets and make sure all the skin has been removed.
2. Make the marinade. In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk together the rice wine vinegar, tamari, mirin, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, lemon zest, and garlic. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is thickened and well blended.
3. Place the fish in a shallow glass roasting pan. Pour the marinade over the filets and turn once to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Note: Make sure you don’t leave the fish in the marinade too long. After 2 hours, the citrus will begin to “cook” the fish, which will give it an unpleasantly mushy texture once it’s grilled.
4. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high. If using a pellet grill, set the temperature to 400 degrees. Choose a mild wood, such as alder or cherry, to avoid overpowering the fish.
5. Use a paper towel and tongs to generously coat the grilling grates with a neutral oil, such as canola. Be careful not to add too much oil, or the fire will flare up.
6. Remove the fish from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels.
7. Grill the rockfish for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to disturb the fish at all during this time.
8. Use a metal spatula to carefully turn the filets. Grill for an additional 3-4 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. The fish will continue to cook for a few minutes after it’s taken off the heat.
9. Remove the fish from the grill. Serve at once, garnished with lemon slices.
Although it’s not an easy fish to prepare, the rewards of grilled rockfish are well worth the effort. Once you understand the basics (and have tasted the results), you should be able to get the hang of it in no time.