For seasoning fish (or any meat really) salt & pepper are often the best. You want to taste the fish, and can add some seasoning on the plate with a tartar sauce, a mango salsa, a flavoured mayonnaise, a drizzle of flavoured olive oil, or a simple squeeze of lemon.
When choosing a fish for grilling it’s important to consider how firm or sturdy it is. Delicate fish like sole, tilapia, or flounder don’t fare so well on the open flame. They’re more likely to become flakey, break apart or fall through the grates. It’s best to choose a firm, hearty fish, like one of our five favourites below.
All five of these have different things to be aware of in terms of sustainability so make sure to double-check their sourcing and seasonality on the Seafood Watch app or online before buying.
Swordfish is a great non-meat alternative to steak for a backyard cookout. This summertime favourite has a mildly sweet flavour and a meaty texture that holds up well to high-heat cooking. Simplicity is the secret to barbecuing swordfish. It needs nothing more than seasoning, a brush of olive oil and a generous squirt of lemon. You can marinate but keep it sharpish – more than 15 to 30 minutes and you run the risk of breaking down the flesh and leaving it mushy. Your goal is to attain fish that is seared on the outside and moist within.
Serve with home-made tzatziki, a briny salsa verde or mango salsa.
Alternatively, try skewers of swordfish souvlaki with chunks of colourful Mediterranean vegetables and flavour enhancing bay leaves softened in water to prevent smoky burning.
The best sustainable swordfish is from the North Atlantic where there are multiple MSC certified sustainable fisheries. Find stores that sell fresh, harpoon-caught swordfish from an MSC certified sustainable fishery in Nova Scotia. The fish are caught slowly, one-by-one, using an age-old fishing technique. This has a very low impact on ocean habitat that helps eliminate bycatch.
South Africans are rightly proud of their braai-ing and flipping a meaty steak over a local wood fire is nothing short of a national pastime. MSC certified Cape hake is a fine fish for a braai and allows the ‘braaimaster’ to swap turf for surf. This deepwater fish is a member of the cod family and has a milder taste, softer texture and smaller flake than cod. So it needs a bit of care on the flame to stay in one piece. It’s best cooked whole, stuffed with citrus fruits and aromatic herbs, or as fillets wrapped in blanched leek leaves or a foil parcel (en papillote) – this last method keeps all the juice and flavours in. Try braaied hake parcels with a spicy coconut sauce or grilled with a fruity apricot glaze. The Spanish are big fans of hake and serve it with chorizo, paprika and garlic.
The South African Cape hake fishery was the first hake fishery in the world to gain MSC certification, which it has held since 2004. By maintaining good practice and remaining certified the fishery has not only safeguarded fish stocks and ensured that natural breeding habitats are protected, it has also secured some 12,000 jobs and increased access to international markets. The fishery is also a global success story for its environmental improvements in reducing seabird mortalities associated with its work by 90 per cent.
These small silver fish with blue-green backs quite literally turn to gold on the barbecue. They are hardy, rich in oils and easy to cook – just rub with olive oil, salt and pepper before laying them on a searing grill.
Cook them descaled and gutted. You can tell they are cooked – usually after 3 to 4 minutes – when their flesh is firm and easily flakes away from the bone and the skin is golden and crispy. The small bones are edible, but the backbone is easily removed and can be discarded after eating the top-side flesh.
Take a lead from the Portuguese and toss them in paprika, chilli, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary and olive oil for a sweet peppery, rustic flavour or stuff them with pine nuts, raisins and breadcrumbs for a caramelised finish, Sicilian style. Serve with crusty bread to soak up the intense flavours and juices, roasted baby potatoes and a fresh green leaf and fennel salad.
Despite the sardine’s rich association with Spain and Portugal, there are currently no MSC approved fisheries in these countries. There are, however, MSC certified fisheries catching sardines in Cornwall, England, South Australia and the Gulf of California.
Proof that looks aren’t everything, the brutish monkfish yields a firm, buttery sweet meat, not unlike lobster or scallops in taste and texture. Its robust flesh works well on the barbecue but it’s not a particularly oily fish so it makes sense to add some oil and take care not to overcook it. With its monstrously broad head removed, skinned and filleted monkfish tail is ideal for grilling and it cubes nicely to make a top kebab.
Serve it simply with mayo or aioli and a little salsa for garnish; with sweet chilli, spring onion, coriander and lime butter, or marinate chunks of monkfish in olive tapenade and wrap in pancetta before skewering and placing on the hot coals. Increasingly popular monkfish cheeks can be cheaper than the tail but are equally satisfying. Remember to remove the outer membrane or this will contract when cooking, making the flesh tough. Try barbecued monkfish cheeks dusted in berbere spice and served with fresh lime.
The Iceland Sustainable Fisheries became the world’s first monkfish fishery to gain MSC certification in 2018. By buying fish from sustainable fisheries you’re encouraging more retailers to stock sustainably-sourced seafood and more fisheries to improve and become certified.
A giant among flatfish, firm-fleshed halibut has a meaty texture, large flakes and a delicate, sweet flavour. Halibut steaks are easier to manage on the barbecue than fillets. Choose steaks that have been cut across the grain of the meat, these will hold together better, and from the middle of the fish rather than the tail which is full of bones.
Prone to drying out, brush both grill and steaks with oil and cook over moderately hot coals until just opaque. Try barbecued miso glazed halibut, or serve steaks with puttanesca sauce (tomatoes, capers, garlic), homemade chipotle mayo or simply brown butter.
A dweller of icy waters, MSC certified sustainable halibut is found in both the North Pacific and North Atlantic at fisheries in Canada, the US, Greenland, Russia (Barents Sea), Norway and in the West Bering Sea. By choosing halibut with the blue MSC label, you can enjoy your fish knowing that tomorrow there will be plenty more where it came from.