Perfectly roasted fish that is juicy, tender and oozing with flavor is every home cook’s dream. Unfortunately, not all (fish roasting) dreams come true. As with everything in real life, roasting fish to perfection takes preparation, skill, and LOVE for cooking. Roasted fish is Cameroon’s ultimate street food in my opinion. If you have ever eaten char-grilled fish sold by vendors on the streets of Limbe (a town in Cameroon), then you know what I am talking about. If not, I would love to invite you over to Cameroon, Africa in miniature and a country blessed with great food. In this post, I share my tips on how to roast fish to perfection.
Every fish from croaker, tilapia, through snapper to trout, welcome a great marinate and some char from one of my favorite activities in the kitchen – roasting. No matter which fish you are using, whether whole or fish fillets or where you are roasting, whether in the oven, on the electric grill or on charcoal, to roast fish to perfection, you need to consider the following:
How to roast fish to perfection – A Starters Guide
Type of fish
Not all fish have the same taste and texture and not all fish are great for roasting. Therefore when choosing fish for roasting, it is important to know its flavor profile. Knowing this, helps you make better choices with respect to the type of marinade, seasoning time and roasting process. Fish come in three different flavor profiles; mild, medium and full. To determine the flavor profile of any fish, check its color when raw. The whiter the flesh, the milder the flavor.
Mild flavor profile: examples include tilapia, sole, cod, halibut, and catfish.
They can also be described as fish that doesn’t taste like fish. Or let’s put it this way, mild fish is almost tasteless. This fish requires intensive seasoning with robust or bold spices like African nutmeg, (ehuru), aridan (quatre coté) etc. and needs to be marinated for days either in the fridge or refrigerator for the best result.
Medium flavor profile: examples include snapper, swordfish, and trout.
These are the middlemen in the fish world. These fish have more of a gentle fishy flavor to them which gives it a nice taste without taking you off guard especially if you are eating fish for the first time. The great thing about these fish is that you can play with seasoning by adding a little or a lot or just enough to suit your taste buds without ruining the flavor.
Full flavor profile: examples include salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines
These are the so-called oily fish with a full flavor profile of their own and a very distinctive taste. They do not need heavy spicing or long periods of marinating. When prepared right, these fish can be just as decadent as a slab of steak. Though these fish pack a good nutritional punch, I personally do not roast them as I prefer other fish like croaker or snapper. But feel free to try these out too this grilling season.
Choice of spices
After you have determined the flavor profile of your fish, then you can make an informed choice of the type of spices you want to use for your marinade. Just remember this, the milder the fish, the tasteless it is.
For mild fish: be generous with your spices, use bold spices. Here is my to-go spice marinade for the mild (white) flavor profile.
For medium fish: If you choose to use fish with the medium profile, remember, these are the jack-of-all-trades. Meaning you can suit your taste buds. Add more spice if you want it really savory. My homemade suya spice is THE B.O.M.B for this fish. Do not go all in if you will still like to taste some fishiness. The choice is yours.
For full fish: For fish in the full flavor profile category, remember that they have their own distinct taste so less is more. You may want to try a basic marinade using oil, salt, white and black pepper, and lemon zest or the lemon juice. You will be surprised at how tasty your fish will be. Watch the live demonstration of how to roast fish to perfection below.
Again, marinating time will depend on the type of fish you are using. The rule of thumb is simple; the milder the fish, the longer the marinating time. Marinating time usually varies from a few hours for full flavor profile fish to 3 days in the fridge for mild fish. Generally what I do is, I marinate my tilapia (mild) fish and store in the freezer for at least 3 days before roasting. The longer it marinate the tastier it will be.
The roasting process
As you can guess, the roasting process will be different depending on the type of fish you are using. Fish like tilapia and sole will roast faster than catfish for example. But here are general tips on how to roast fish to perfection:
- Leave fish for 15 -20 minutes at room temperature after defrosting before roasting. This will help to set the fish and enhance flavor.
- Always oil fish (except oily fish) inside and out before grilling, this will help release the juices.
- I recommend filling the cavity of the mild fish with spice or the medium fish with sprigs of fresh herbs like parsley, basil or leeks for flavor enhancement.
- Use half an onion steeped in oil to oil your grill to avoid the fish from sticking on the grill.
- Resist the urge to turn fish more than once on each side to avoid breakage. Flipping once is sufficient.
- To check for tenderness, test with a fork. Perfectly roasted fish will flake when a fork is inserted into its flesh.
So there you go loves. I hope these tips would be useful this roasting season. Do you have any tips or secrets on how to roast fish to perfection? Please share in the comment area below. Happy roasting fam!
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