To grill fish, make sure it's hot
courtesy photo, Chef Al DiIeso prepares this grilled salmon.

It's that time of year again, when grill masters and amateurs are firing up their barbecues. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts have been traditional fare for most grillers, but fresh fish is quickly gaining backyard popularity.

Part of the reason behind its popularity is recent studies showing that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids – especially salmon, tuna, and even anchovies – can help strengthen memory, fight cardiovascular disease, and reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. It also helps that fish tastes delicious, especially grilled.

Because fish has a tendency to flake, stick, or burn easier than other meats, it needs extra attention when grilling. With these tips, you will soon realize that it is worth the effort.

Like most grilled foods, it's important to remember that high heat helps prevent sticking. A rule I follow is holding my hand about five inches over the coals or flame to test the heat. If I'm only able to hold my hand there for about two seconds, the grill is at a high setting; three to four seconds means medium-high, and any longer means the grill needs to get hotter. This rule applies to fish, chicken, steak, burgers, and most other grilled dishes.

Another reason why fish may stick to a grill is that the grates are not clean. No one wants fresh fish that tastes like last year's hot dogs. To fix, use a wire grill brush to scrub off any baked-on grease – otherwise, the older grilling debris will create a strong adhesive to tear apart the delicate fish fillets.

If the preferred grilling fuel is charcoal, remember to clean any leftover ash from the grill, as this will help airflow and allow the cook to light the briquettes more easily. It will also keep ash out of people's mouths.

Greasing grill grates has also grown in popularity, thanks to television chefs like Bobby Flay. There is a reason why he and many other well-known chefs use this method since fish is softer than other meats and will fuse easily; greasing helps keep your fish intact. After running a wire brush over the grates, coat them with olive or canola oil using a spray bottle or silicone brush.

Fish, like other grilling meats, tastes great in combination with a good sauce: I recommend something with a citrus or acidic content that won't overpower the natural flavor. Regardless of personal choice, saucing too early can cause the fish to burn quickly or stick to the grill. This is especially the case with sauces that have a sugar base since this will cause the fish to caramelize and blacken when placed over high heat for a long period. It is better to brush on sauces in the last minutes of the grilling process to create a great glaze without a dark charred appearance.

Fish is a tasty and healthy option for your grill. I serve it to my friends, family, and to Splendido's residents regularly during the summer. So take advantage of our warm weather and fire up that grill to enjoy a nutritious fillet. Using these tips, it's sure to be an unforgettable meal.

Chef Albert DiIeso is the executive chef for Splendido, a resort-style continuing care retirement community in Oro Valley, where he oversees all kitchen operations and menu development for the community's four dining venues. Send cooking questions to

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