Tips to help you perfect the art of the fish braai

There’s nothing us South Africans won’t braai and fish is another SA braai classic. Braaing fish can be a bit trickier than your average “vleis” braai though, so I’ve compiled some useful tips to help you perfect the art of grilling some delicious vis op die braai!

Clean the braai grill 

There’s nothing more annoying than when your perfect fish gets stuck to the grill at the final stage. If your grill grate still has bits of the last thing you cooked stuck to it, the fish’s delicate skin and flesh will stick and the fish will fall apart the minute you try to remove it. Clean your grill grate well with a stiff-wire brush, once the bigger chunks of debris have been removed finish the job by wiping off the dust with a dampened paper towel. Or you can use the good old fashioned onion technique and rub half a cut onion (on the end of a fork), onto a hot grill. This will remove all of the grit on the grill that may be left over. No more sticky fish!

Preparing the fish

If you can, keep the skin on the fish to prevent it from falling apart. If you’re scared of this happening anyway, wrap your fish in foil to keep it intact. When it comes to seasoning, make sure to season the fish inside and out. You can rub olive oil all over the fish and sprinkle salt and pepper on both the skin and in the body cavity. Try stuffing your fish with different flavour combinations like lemon and thyme, garlic and rosemary or red onion and butter.

fish braai

Temperature

Avoid having a carbonated fish disaster by being careful when you braai. Place the fish in indirect heat. Do not place your fish right over the hot coals or fire, place it on a part of the grill that gets indirect heat, so it won’t end up burning. The heat should be steady and medium or else the skin could burn before the fish is done. When braaing whole fish on the bone place the fish so that the tail is furthest from the flames since that will cook the fastest.

Braaing filleted fish

If you are wanting to braai a filleted fish then the heartier species are the best type to braai. They tend to hold up to high heat and won’t flake apart when you try to lift them. Look for a thick, steak-like texture (like tuna or swordfish) and avoid grilling flaky, delicate fish that will simply fall apart when prodded. When you’re braaing filleted fish be sure to place the skin-side down on the grill first. Cooking the skin side first will help the fish hold together. If your fish doesn’t have skin you can lightly brush the fish with oil to prevent it from sticking and cook it directly on the grill.

Filleted fish will cook more quickly than a fish with bones. As a guideline it takes about eight minutes to cook through an inch of fish, so for most fillets this means three to five minutes per side. Watch as the fish’s flesh starts to cook and become opaque as the grill heats it from below. Flip the fish and finish cooking for another three to five minutes. The best way to tell whether one side is sufficiently cooked is by moving the fish slightly with a spatula; if the skin no longer sticks, it’s ready. If the fish sticks, it may not be finished cooking on that side. Give it another few minutes, then work it loose carefully.

fish braai

Any type of whole fish does great on a braai. Look for a fresh fish with clear eyes and shiny scales with no bruises or discolored spots. It’s also a good idea to have the fish cleaned and scaled at the fish counter. The guts and scales will be removed so the fish is ready to go when you get home. It pays to plan ahead a bit further when you’re braaing whole fish as they take about three times as long to cook as a fillet. Help the fish cook more evenly scoring the skin and opening the fish up to additional heat. Use a sharp paring knife to make a few slashes perpendicular to the backbone on both sides of the fish. Make longer, deeper slashes toward the head, where there’s more meat and the fish cooks more slowly. 

I would love to hear more about your favourite fish recipes and cooking tips and tricks. Shout out your best fishy food hacks in the comments below!

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