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Grilling fish can turn cooks into chickens

Donald Clegg Special to The Spokesman-Review

Men who fearlessly fling a slab of ribs on the grill and watch the flames with an I-am-in-control smile often become hesitant pokers when given a whole fish instead. What is it about food with fins that raises misgivings totally lacking in any other hunk of meat?

Well, maybe this sort of thing: Out one morning, my wife ordered the special, a whole trout with the usual breakfast accompaniments. What a waste of that poor fish. It was overcooked and dried out – as inedible as the $10 bill it cost. The point: Most fish can go from delectable to detestable very quickly.

I’ve had my own share of disasters, like the expensive salmon fillet that refused to release from a sticky grill, or the tender trout that fell apart during my clumsy effort to remove it from the pan with one spatula, not two. Never mind the over-breaded, undercooked catfish incident.

My fishpertise has grown considerably but I like an occasional change of pace from some standard preparations. As I’ve mentioned before, Chris Schlesinger is a fellow who cooks like I do, except a lot better. Whether you use seasonal Copper River salmon or another variety, you can trust him on these two dishes, with one exception. Pay no mind to his cooking time. Grilling is just too variable a method of cooking. If you’re in doubt at all, put one steak on in advance of the others, and experiment first with just that one.

I’ve recommended “The New Basics Cookbook” before, and like it immensely, but these days I mostly use it as a rough guide. I’d suggest these changes from their recipe: trout is a delicately flavored fish and I don’t think it needs the rosemary, especially. Go with just the chives, dill, and triple the tarragon. You don’t need the butter either.

Guys, go ahead with your Father’s Day grilling, but take a break from burgers and steaks. The trout’s your rainy day backup. Get over your fishy fears and a whole new world of cooking awaits.

Grilled Copper River Salmon with Chile-Honey Glaze and Ginger-Red Onion Relish

From Big Flavors of the Hot Sun, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby

For the Chile-Honey Glaze:

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon minced fresh red or green chili pepper

4 (8-ounce) salmon steaks

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste

Combine the glaze ingredients, orange juice through chili pepper, in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes or until all the ingredients are well combined. Set aside.

Rub the salmon lightly with sesame oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the salmon over a medium-hot fire for 6 to 8 minutes per side, or until it is opaque throughout. During the last 30 seconds of grilling, brush the fish with the Chile-Honey Glaze. (Be careful not to leave the fish on the grill too long after you apply the glaze, or the sugar in the glaze will burn.) Serve with Ginger-Red Onion Relish (recipe follows).

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 480 calories, 26 grams fat (4 grams saturated, 50 percent fat calories), 48.5 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrate, 140 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 254 milligrams sodium.

Ginger-Red Onion Relish

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1/4 cup lime juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and fresh-cracked pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

Approximate nutrition per serving, based on 4: 15 calories, no fat, less than 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 146 milligrams sodium.

Poached Trout

From The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

3 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 strip lemon zest, 2 inches by 1/2 inch

2 fresh brook trout (about 12 ounces each), cleaned, heads and tails left on

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Lemon wedges, for garnish

In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring the water, wine, herbs, spices, and lemon zest to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Gently lower the trout into the liquid. Simmer partially covered, until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Using two spatulas, lift each trout out and place it on a dinner plate.

Blend the butter with two tablespoons of the cooking liquid (with as much of the herbs as you can retrieve) and spoon over the fish. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges alongside.

Yield: 2 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 293 calories, 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 19 percent fat calories), 35 grams protein, 2.5 grams carbohydrate, 100 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 365 milligrams sodium.