What to CookMexican

The Easiest, Fastest (3-Minute!) Way to Grill Fish

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A few years ago, Bon Appétit ran a story on “plancha”-style cooking featuring chef Eric Ripert and a slate-grilled summer menu. The photos of steak searing, sourdough bread charring, and all the summer vegetables caramelizing on a smoking-hot slab nearly had me running to Home Depot to buy untreated slate (as Ripert reportedly does), but as I read on, a more appealing idea caught my attention: I could use my cast iron skillet instead. BA noted that a griddle or cast iron pan set on a grill like a plancha allows “food to pick up smoky grill flavors without the risk of flareups,” and is “particularly suited to delicate foods like fish and small vegetables that would otherwise fall through or be shredded by a grill grate.”

Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema
Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema

Last week, when summer finally hit upstate New York, and nothing sounded better than grilled fish, I remembered this article and set my cast iron skillet on the grill as it preheated. About 10 minutes later, when the grill temperature had climbed to 550° F and the skillet had turned white hot, I poured in a little oil, carefully lowered in a haddock fillet, closed the grill, and set the timer for 3 minutes. Much to my delight, when the timer dinged, the fish had seared beautifully, the heat of the skillet creating a light bottom crust, which allowed the fillet to release from the pan with the gentlest push of a spatula.

Because I use a gas grill, no smoky flavor was imparted; nothing emerging from my grill will taste like burning briquettes or a summer campfire—but this is something I’ve come to accept about my backyard grilling undertakings. My gas grill, in essence, is a very hot outdoor oven that excels at searing without setting off the fire alarm; if you're working with a charcoal grill, I think the fish will be as good if not even better for the flavor of the coals.

Left, tortillas and fish just off the grill. Right, the makings of a simple slaw for tacos. Photos by Alexandra Stafford

In addition to haddock, I’ve had success using this method with fillets of cod and grouper, each about 1/2- to 1-inch thick. Seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper, the flaky fish can be eaten simply with a squeeze of lemon, though it’s particularly good broken into pieces over a bed of slaw and wrapped in tortillas warmed directly on the grill grates (which only takes about 30 seconds). With a simple slaw and crema, a summery skillet-grilled dinner can materialize in no time.

Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema

Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 2

Cilantro-Lime Crema

  • 1 cup (heaping) cilantro, about 1 ounce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos

  • 1 pound fillet of haddock, cod, or grouper (or other), 1/2- to 1-inch thick
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste, see above
  • Grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • Tortillas, (I like Whole Foods' soft corn tortillas)
  • Slaw, see above
  • Lime wedges for serving
Go to Recipe
Cabbage and Red Onion Slaw

Cabbage and Red Onion Slaw

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Go To Recipe
Serves 4 to 6
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 small head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
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Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

Have you ever used a cast iron pan on your grill? Tell us about it, and what you made, in the comments.

Tags: Seafood, Summer, Grill/Barbecue, Tips & Techniques