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How to grill fish: Tips for making shrimp, salmon and more

Even the most confident outdoor grillers of steaks, burgers and vegetables relegate seafood to the kitchen range. This year, we’re going to help you conquer your fear of fish with expert counsel from Chris Kletsidis, executive chef at Kyma in Roslyn, one of Long Island’s Top 10 seafood restaurants.

Kletsidis can’t remember a time before he was helping his father catch porgies, weakfish and mackerel on a boat out of Port of Egypt in Southold. “I learned to fish before I learned to talk,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, he learned to cook fish. Kletsidis’ grandfather had emigrated from Kastoria in Northern Greece and opened a restaurant, Hellenic Palace, on West 47th Street in Manhattan. Young Chris grew up in the kitchen, helping his parents and grandparents there.

At Kyma, he practices the ancient Greek art of simply grilled fish, flavored with little more than the smoke of the grill and anointed with good Greek olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Here are his secrets.

Salmon fillets

Kletsidis annoints grilled salmon with ladolemono, the classic
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Salmon likes to stick to the grill, no doubt about it. Here are two methods for minimizing the risk.

Choose your salmon: Use big fillets — anywhere from 10 to 14 ounces — that are at least 1 1⁄2 inches thick; 2 inches is better. Leave the skin on to help fillet keep its shape.

Prepare grill: Make sure your grill is hot and its grates are clean. Just before grilling, wipe down the grates with a few passes of an oil-soaked wad of paper towels.

Stick prevention method 1: Blot the fish to make it as dry as possible, lightly brush the flesh side of the fish with oil, sprinkle with salt and lay on the grill at an angle to the grates. Grill over high heat with cover down. After 4 minutes, use a thin metal spatula to gently lift the fish from the grill. If it doesn’t lift off easily, wait, checking at 30-second intervals, until it releases. Then use the spatula and a pair of tongs to turn it over onto the skin side. Depending on the thickness of the fillet, it will take 10 to 15 minutes to cook through.

Stick prevention method 2: Blot the fish to make it as dry as possible. Brush skin with oil, then lay fillet, skin side down, on grill. Cover grill and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. When fish is done, try your chances at using spatula to lift skin off grill. If it sticks, just leave the skin on the grill and take the fillet.

To serve: Drizzle salmon with ladolemono (recipe below), then sprinkle with sliced scallions, drained capers and Greek oregano that you crush between your fingers as you sprinkle. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Shrimp kebabs

Kletsidis garnishes grilled shrimp kebabs with parsley and
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Shrimp cook quickly on the grill, but turning each one is tiresome. Hence the beauty of shrimp kebabs.

Use big shrimp: Kletsidis serves U-10 shrimp — meaning there are 10 or fewer to the pound. In the fish market, look for “extra colossal,” “colossal” or “extra jumbo.”

Best vegetable: Grape tomatoes are the perfect spacer bead on a shrimp-kebab necklace.

Season: Before grilling, brush the kebabs with ladolemono, sprinkle with kosher salt and Greek oregano. Baste a few times during cooking.

Timing: Grill over high heat with cover down. Turn once the edges and tails of the shrimp turn pink, about 5 minutes. When they are done, the shrimp will feel firm, look opaque and be more tightly curled; the tails will have taken on some brown — no more than 10 to 12 minutes total. Shrimp are sturdy, so don’t be afraid of turning the kebabs a few times to get them nicely browned.

To serve: Drizzle finished kebabs with ladolemono then a sprinkling of salt and Greek oregano that you crush between your fingers as you sprinkle. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Whole fish

No dish is more classically Greek than grilled
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

There is no fish preparation more Greek than a grilled whole fish. At Kyma, the cooks use fish-shaped metal “baskets” to keep the fish from sticking to the grill. These are widely available at cookware stores and make the process a cinch.

Match the basket to the fish: If your basket is too tight, the fish will bulge out and burn. Your best bet is taking the basket to the fish market and getting a fish that fits comfortably inside, 1 1⁄2 pounds is standard and 2 inches is about the thickest you’ll want.

Spray the basket: Use nonstick spray inside and out, unless the basket itself is nonstick.

Season the fish: Brush with ladolemeno and sprinkle with salt.

Timing: Place the basket on a hot, clean grill. When the skin on the bottom starts to bubble and brown and the tail starts to blacken, 10 to 15 minutes, turn the fish. A whole fish will take about 30 minutes to cook through. When it is done, you will be able to slide the backbone out of the top of the fish without meeting any resistance from the meat.

No-basket method: Have your fishmonger gut the fish, but leave the scales on. Before grilling, sprinkle the fish liberally with coarse salt on both sides. The scales will keep the fish from sticking to the grill; the downside is you won’t be able to eat the skin.

To serve: Drizzle fish with ladolemono, then sprinkle with drained capers and Greek oregano that you crush between your fingers as you sprinkle. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Swordfish kebabs

Swordfish kebabs, grilled by Kletsidis, are garnished with
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Kebabs are an easy way to introduce fish to the grill, but the fish you choose must be thick and meaty. Swordfish, says Kletsidis, is a perfect candidate.

Big chunks: Cut the fish into big pieces, about 2 inches square.

Marinate for flavor: Place chunks in a resealable bag with enough marinade (recipe below) to completely cover them. Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

Best vegetables: Use onions, peppers and/or tomatoes, and make sure the tomatoes are the firm, meaty plum (Roma or sauce) type. No beefsteaks or heirlooms for the grill.

The right cut: Make sure vegetables and fish are cut so they lie flat and are in full contact with the grill on all four sides — nothing should protrude or the kebab won’t cook evenly. That means peppers and onions cut into 2-inch squares, tomatoes squared off so that they are no thicker than 2 inches.

Timing: Grill over high heat with cover down. Kebabs are ready to turn when the fish turns white on top, brown grill marks appear on bottom, 7 to 10 minutes. Don’t try to move fish before 4 minutes and try to turn only once.

To serve: Drizzle finished kebabs with ladolemono, then a sprinkling of salt and dried oregano, preferably Greek from a specialty store, that you crush between your fingers as you sprinkle. Garnish with scallions and capers.

SWORDFISH MARINADE RECIPE

At Kyma, Chris Kletsidis uses this marinade to enhance the flavor of swordfish.

1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch dill
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1⁄4 cup capers, drained
2 dried bay leaves
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3⁄4 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process for a few minutes, until everything is well-integrated and smooth. Makes 3 cups.

Grilled octopus

Chris Kletsidis, executive chef at Kyma restaurant in
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

It’s a Greek-restaurant favorite, but there’s no seafood easier to grill than octopus. Buy frozen tentacles, boil in well-salted water for an hour, until tender. Drain and blot dry. When you’re ready to serve, finish them on a hot grill to give them some color. Drizzle with ladolemono and salt.

LADOLEMONO: LEMON-OLIVE OIL MASTER SAUCE RECIPE

At Kyma, Chris Kletsidis uses ladolemono, the classic Greek blend of lemon juice and olive oil, to anoint virtually every dish that leaves the kitchen.

1⁄2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 strand saffron (optional)
1 1⁄2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and optional saffron. While whisking, slowly pour in olive oil so that an emulsion is formed. Pour into a jar and shake, to re-emulsify, before using. Makes 2 cups.

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