Don’t shy away from cooking a relatively thin and delicate fillet of fish like Pacfic rockfish on the grill. We know you can do it! Knowing how to grill rockfish like a pro is 90 percent easy prep and 10 percent spatula skills — and if you own a fish spatula, the fish and grill preparations are nearly all you need to perfectly grill wild-caught rockfish.
Lean, mild fillets of Pacific rockfish benefit greatly from the intense flavor of direct heat that only a fiery grill can produce. Rockfish is a favorite for tacos, being less delicate in flavor than other varieties of white fish from Alaska, and it pairs up nicely with fresh salsas, sauces, and other bold toppings that naturally complement grilled foods.
Prepping Your Rockfish
Any time you’re using a hot and dry heat source to cook your rockfish, you will need to pat your fillets dry. Simply use a tea towel or paper towel to pat excess moisture from the surface of your fillets.
This step is critical when cooking a flaky fish on the grill, especially a relatively thin fillet like rockfish. A damp fillet will not pick up the color and texture of grill marks, as they’ll steam rather than char over the fire. Even worse, you’re setting yourself up for an epic fail when you try to flip the fillets, as they’re way more likely to stick to the grill grates when they haven’t been able to develop the crust of grill marks.
Prep Your Grill
Take a minute to prep your grill, too. Rockfish fillets are much less likely to stick to grates when they’re clean. The best way to clean the grates is to heat up the grill, then go over the grates with a wire grill brush.
After you’ve brushed off remnants of cookouts past, lightly oil the grates with vegetable oil (or another oil that can withstand high heat) using a brush or rag.
Preheat your cleaned and oiled grill so that it gets nice and hot. If you’re using a charcoal grill, this may take about 30 minutes to achieve, while gas grills may only need about 10 minutes to get up to temperature. Aim for a temperature between 400 to 450 degrees so that your fish will char without getting burnt.
Don’t rush the preheating process, as lean rockfish needs to be cooked hot and fast in order to cook through into a moist and tender fillet. Higher temperatures also ensure that the fillets will take on the flavor, color, and texture of the grill.
Shortly before you’re ready to grill your fish, drizzle the fillets with oil and season them with sea salt and pepper. This is also the time to add a dry rub to the fillets. Alternatively, you can marinate the fillets briefly in a wet marinade of your choice — just remember to pat the fillets dry before introducing them to the grill grates.
Your fillets should sizzle as soon as they come into contact with the grates. If not, raise the heat or allow your grill more time to preheat. Rockfish needs about 3 to 4 minutes per side on the grill, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Stay close to the grill, but leave the fillets undisturbed until you’re ready to flip them or transfer them to a serving platter.
The most challenging moment when grilling fish is the flip halfway through, but if you’ve observed every prep step along the way, the flip is going to be one of the most satisfying moments as the grill master. Ideally, you’ll have a fish spatula to carry out the flip. This thin, flexible spatula has the perfect angle to shimmy between the fillet and the grill grates, if there’s any sticking. However, there shouldn’t be much sticking if your grill was sufficiently hot and your fillets were sufficiently dried: The fillets will naturally pull away from the grill grates when they’re ready to be flipped.
Be gentle in this process so that the rockfish doesn’t fall through the grill while you’re handling it; the fillets will be flaky and opaque through the middle once the second side has cooked through. You can also ensure doneness by using an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature. Aim for 135 degrees.
Grilled Rockfish Recipe Ideas
Check out our blog post for lots of grilled rockfish inspo, ranging from casual taco meals to elegant, composed recipes.
above photo courtesy of ASMI (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute)