Grilled Scallops

Photo by Another Pint Please

Although it has been bitter cold the past few weeks in much of the country, some of us never stop grilling, even if we have to shovel a path through the snow to get to the grill (and I’ve done that!). I’ve owned Weber charcoal kettle grills for almost 35 years, so what follows is “charcoal-centric.” I hope that others will share recipes and grilling tips in the comments, and that gas grill owners will offer suggestions too.

Some of the following seafood grilling tips are from the Weber’s Way to Grill cookbook, one of many authored by Jamie Purviance, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, author of several grilling cookbooks, and an accomplished chef and teacher. Even if you own a different brand of grill, this cookbook is chock full of recipes, tips, and grilling ideas for meat, poultry, vegetables and seafood, and very much worth the modest price.

I use a couple of different perforated grill pans for some of my grilling, a deep dish grill “wok” and a second flat one with holes. A perforated grill pan can handle delicate fish and small foods like chopped veggies that would otherwise fall through the cooking grate. I often grill a mixture of mini redskin potatoes, crookneck squash slices, fat whole mushrooms, quartered onions, cherry tomatoes, and cooked shelled shrimp, all tossed in olive oil and Greek seasoning (any herb mixture, like Herbes de Provence, works well too).

A mixture like this is best cooked using indirect heat, with the charcoal in two piles on either side of the charcoal grate, and the wok above, centered on the cooking grate rather than directly over the hot coals. Indirect heat is more nearly like an oven, as opposed to the “broiler” effect of cooking directly over hot coals. I cook each component in order of density, starting with potatoes, then adding the squash, then the onions, mushrooms, and last the cherry tomatoes and shrimp, tossing the mixture after each addition and then covering the grill for a bit more cooking.  The grill “wok” is superb for preparing this dish.  . . .

A favorite way to grill fish fillets is on a cedar plank. They’re available in a package of four from Lowe’s or Home Depot (my grocery sometimes has them, too). I’ve also recently read about using a salt block to grill meat and seafood, although I haven’t used one.

If you haven’t grilled fish before, start with firm fish like salmon, swordfish or tuna. Limit marinating time to just a couple of hours, and don’t overcook the fish. High heat creates a bit of crust, which helps the fish release from the grate, and the thinner the fillets, the higher the heat should be. Turn fish only once, because every time you turn you create a new possibility for sticking. Grill baskets for fish are a handy grill accessory that will keep fish off the grate, letting you turn the fish by flipping over the basket. If you’re cooking with the grill lid closed (as you should), the second side of your fillet begins to cook while the first side is on the grate, so it won’t take as long after you turn it.

Here’s how to grill a wonderful salmon fillet, using a cedar plank and very simple ingredients:

1 salmon fillet, about 2 lbs.
1/3 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. soy sauce

Soak the cedar plank in salted water for at least an hour. While the plank is soaking, prepare the salmon and glaze. Run your fingertips over the salmon to feel for pin bones, and use needle-nose pliers to pull them out. Cut the raw salmon into individual portions, cutting through the fish but not through the skin. Pat dry with paper towels. Make the glaze by boiling the soy sauce and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it is reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1-1/2 Tbsp. of the glaze in a cup for brushing on the cooked salmon just before serving.

Place the soaked plank on the cooking grate directly over medium coals and close the grill lid. It will begin to smoke and char after about 5 – 10 minutes. When the plank starts smoking, turn it charred side up and lay the salmon on it. Brush the salmon generously with the glaze. Close the grill lid and let the salmon cook about 5 – 10 minutes, then brush it with more glaze. When the salmon is at desired doneness (about 15 – 20 minutes for medium rare, depending on thickness), remove it to a platter and brush it (using a clean brush) with the reserved glaze.

An easy way to grill shrimp is on skewers. Try to choose shrimp that are the same size, so you can nestle them on the skewer with no empty spaces. If you use bamboo skewers, you must soak them in water for about 30 minutes. Peel and devein the shrimp, leave the tails on. Skewer the first shrimp through both head and tail ends. Skewer the next through the head end only with the tail end pointing in the opposite direction from the first shrimp, and skewer the remaining shrimp like the second one, so all the tails face the same way and the shrimp are nested together. This keeps them from spinning when you turn the skewer, and also helps prevent them from drying out. Lightly brush each skewer of shrimp with olive oil and season them with salt & pepper. Grill the shrimp directly over hot coals, with the lid closed as much as possible, until they are slightly firm on the surface and opaque in the center, 2 – 4 minutes, turning each skewer once. Baste them with garlic butter (or one of many sauce recipes available online) before serving.

To grill sea scallops, remove the small, tough side muscle (if it’s there) on each scallop. Combine in a small bowl: 1 Tbsp. each of melted butter, olive oil, and lemon juice, a teaspoon of grated lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper. Toss the scallops in the marinade and let stand at room temperature for 10 – 15 minutes. Lift the scallops from the marinade and lay them carefully slightly apart on the cooking grate directly over medium coals. Grill them with the lid closed as much as possible, 4 – 6 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and just opaque, turning once. You can check for doneness by cutting one open.

The seafood vendor at my local Farmer’s Market says lobster tails, unlike whole lobster, should never be boiled, and recommends grilling or broiling. Use kitchen scissors to cut through the center of the shell on the underside of each tail, and then flip the tail over and cut through the harder back shell all the way to the fins. Then using a sharp heavy knife, pass it through the openings you’ve made to cut each tail in half lengthwise. Grill the tails, flesh side down, on the grill rack directly over medium hot charcoal until the surface of the flesh turns opaque. Then turn the tails over onto their shells and brush with garlic butter and grill until the flesh is opaque all the way to the center. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon.

Grill seafood in the winter? YES we most certainly CAN! Please share your seafood tips and recipes in the comments!