The weather hasn’t been cooperating this week, but spring has indeed sprung. Despite the chilly temps, one only has to look towards Friday and the Tigers opening day for proof that warmer times are on the way.

After a winter of stews, roasts simmered in slow cooker and pot after pot of chili, spring cooking should reflect the new season and feature lighter fare. Opting for fish is a great way to start the new grilling season. If you’re like me, grilling ramps up as soon as the specter of snow is removed. Or given the temperatures lately, the specter of snow that sticks around is removed.

Fish doesn’t have to be intimidating, said Jennifer Trainer Thompson, author of “Fresh Fish: A Fearless Guide to Grilling, Shucking, Searing, Poaching and Roasting Seafood” (Storey Publishing, $19.95).

“So many people are so nervous about cooking fish,” Thompson said via a telephone interview. “They’re afraid it’s going to stink — it shouldn’t — and they’re worried it isn’t going to turn out. But it’s so good for you and it is so easy.”

Plus cooking fish is fast — about 10 minutes per inch, she said. And fish fillets such as salmon, sea bass and tuna are ready in a flash when placed on a hot grill. Just be careful not to overcook the fish to keep it from drying out.

Plus a lot of fish is interchangeable, Thompson said. You can substitute trout, grayling or char for whitefish for example.

“Look for the freshest fish you can find,” Thompson said. “If it smells, it isn’t good. And once you get over the intimidation factor, you’ll find it’s really easy to cook.”

Tasty fish dishes can be made indoors too, if you don’t feel like fireing up the grill. En papillote, or packet method of cooking, is a good way to go.

Cooking fish en papillote is a super-easy way to increase the margin of error, that window when the fish is cooked, but not overcooked. That’s because cooking the fish in a tightly sealed packet creates a dome of steam that gently cooks the fish (and any other ingredients in the packet), keeping all those tasty juices right inside.

That cooking time forgiveness is pure culinary gold. En papillote traditionally is done using kitchen parchment, but foil packets are handy and can get tossed on the grill in summer. Just be aware that foil can react with acid, so if you are using a lot of lemon juice for an en papillote recipe, it’s better to go with parchment (but not for the grill).

For each packet, spray a heavy-duty piece of foil with cooking spray. Then set a serving of fish on top, following by any other ingredients you like. I like to include a sauce or paste for flavor (maybe pesto or a little white wine), an aromatic (such as minced onion), and some finely chopped veggies. If the veggies are heartier (such as sweet potatoes), parcook them first (a quick microwave steam is fine).

Fish foil packets are versatile and weeknight-friendly. You can assemble them in advance and just toss them in the oven when you get home from work.

Associated Press writer Melissa d’Arabian contributed.

Roasted Cod with Basil and Tomatoes on Garlic Toasts

When preparing cod, select a fat piece where the center of the fish is 1 inch thick. It should fall apart in cooking and give off milky juices. Beware: if cod doesn’t flake, it’s not fresh. Nor will it tolerate overcooking — cook it quickly and gently, and prepare it simply. You can substitute haddock, flounder, pollock, halibut, sole, or any thick white fish. This is a terrific dish for a winter dinner party.

1 pound (about 6) plum tomatoes, cored and diced

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

4 anchovy fillets, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

4 (4-ounce) cod loins

5 tablespoons grapeseed oil

4 slices Garlic Toast (recipe follows)

1/2 cup fresh basil chiffonade

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 475 degress.

Combine the tomatoes, shallots, anchovies, garlic, wine, salt, and pepper in a medium skillet and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Rub both sides of the fish with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a baking dish or on a baking sheet until just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

To serve, place a garlic toast on each dinner plate, top it with the fish, and then a generous serving of the tomato sauce. Garnish with the basil and parsley. Serves 4.

Per serving (without garlic toast): 295 calories; 18 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 50 mg cholesterol; 517 mg sodium; 22 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Per serving (with regular garlic toast): 425 calories; 25 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 53 percent calories from fat); 25 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 50 mg cholesterol; 721 mg sodium; 24 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Marinated Shrimp with Fresh Herbs

This marinated shrimp is delicious on its own or with Mustard-Lime Dipping Sauce.

16 jumbo shrimp

1 lemon, halved, with 3 strips lemon peel reserved

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, grated

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

Using kitchen shears, score each shrimp along the back; this will make them easier to peel later.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Squeeze in the lemon juice, add the shrimp, and cook until pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Cool in a bowl of ice water, drain, and peel.

Whisk the oil, shallots, pepper flakes, lemon peel, garlic, chives, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper in a big bowl. Add the shrimp, toss to coat, and refrigerate for several hours. Serve cold with lemon wedges. Serves 4.


Cooking the shrimp with their shells on helps retain flavor.

You can cook shrimp a day ahead if you keep it covered and chilled.

Per serving (with 1/2 marinade): 328 calories; 28 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 77 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 139 mg cholesterol; 697 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Basil Relish

Salmon is a full-flavored oily fish loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. You could substitute mackerel, bluefish, herring, or striped bass in this recipe. Or choose wild Alaskan salmon.


2 pounds Atlantic salmon, preferably with skin still on one side

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedge


2 ripe tomatoes, diced

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon minced basil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-high fire in a gas or charcoal grill. Brush both sides of the fish with the sesame oil, and then sprinkle the flesh side with the rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the lemon over the fish and grill until it flakes with a fork, 4 to 6 minutes per side.

While the fish is cooking, assemble the relish: Combine the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, basil, garlic, and cumin in a small bowl. Stir and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the fish hot off the grill with the tomato relish on the side. Serves 4.

Per serving: 357 calories; 19 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 113 mg cholesterol; 287 mg sodium; 41 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Pan-Fried Trout


1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

1 clove garlic, smashed

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

3 lemons, juiced and 1 lemon, zested and reserved

Kosher salt

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

4 (10 to 12-ounce) trout, boned, belly flap removed, rinsed and patted dry, heads and tails left on

Extra-virgin olive oil

In a wide flat dish, combine the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, zest of 1 lemon and salt, to taste.

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard and the juice of 1 lemon. Brush both sides of the trout with mustard mixture. Coat the fish on both sides with the seasoned bread crumbs and press firmly to adhere the crumbs to the fish.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Coat a large skillet with about 1/4 to 1/2-inch of olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Add the fish to the pan, skin side down, and cook the fish one third of the way, about 6 to 7 minutes. Carefully turn the fish over and cook the other side until the fish is brown and crispy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the fish from the pan and drain on paper towels. You will probably need to work in batches to do 4 fish. After the first batch is done and dried on paper towels, reserve it on a rack in a warm oven.

When all the fish has been fried, remove the oil and any brown bits from the pan. Add the butter and remaining lemon juice and swirl to combine as the butter melts. Season with salt, to taste, and reduce by about half. Transfer the fish to a serving platter, drizzle with the butter lemon sauce and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving (without butter): 516 calories; 24 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 32 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 183 mg cholesterol; 1,238 mg sodium; 42 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Mustard-Lime Dipping Sauce

This dipping sauce goes well with marinated shrimp, grilled halibut, or salmon.

1/2 cup mayonnaise or sour cream

Juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons spicy mustard

2 teaspoons honey or brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together in a small bowl the mayonnaise, lime juice, mustard, honey, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Chill until serving. Makes 1/2 cup or 8 servings.

Per serving (per 1 tablespoon): 104 calories; 10 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 87 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 6 mg cholesterol; 276 mg sodium; 0.2 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Salmon Packets with Curry and Green Beans

Six 5-ounce salmon fillets

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1/4 cup chopped pineapple (canned is fine)

1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce (optional)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped Thai basil (or regular basil if not available)

1 teaspoon lime zest

1/2 cup light canned coconut milk

3 shallots, thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into matchsticks

1/2 pound thin green beans (haricots verts), trimmed

Heat the oven to 375 F. Coat 6 large rectangles of heavy foil with cooking spray.

Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the curry paste and fish sauce. Add the pineapple, chili sauce, garlic, basil, lime zest and coconut milk. Mix well.

Divide the shallots evenly among the prepared sheets of foil, spreading them evenly in the center of each rectangle. Set a salmon fillet over the shallots on each sheet, then spoon some of the sauce over the salmon, dividing it evenly between the servings. Top each with red pepper slices and green beans, then fold up the sides of the foil to create loose packets. Be sure to crimp the packets well so they contain any steam.

Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake until the salmon is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful when opening; the packets will release hot steam.

Per serving: 310 calories; 16 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 11 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 70 mg cholesterol; 660 mg sodium; 30 g protein; 3 g fiber.

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