Since bluefish is a lean, flaky fish, it gets wrapped in briny grape leaves then tossed directly on the grill. This way, the fish won’t fall apart while it cooks.
When I worked at Annisa restaurant in New York, I used to watch the grill chef work her station. She always moved with such grace and efficiency. Throwing a piece of meat on the grill while simultaneously frying and steaming something else. After a minute or so, she’d deftly place a needle-like skewer through the center of the meat then against the top of her lip–testing the temperature within.
Having trained primarily in plant-based kitchens, I was fascinated by the mystery of the bluefish dish. How was she able to tell when it was cooked? One day she showed me how to use the skewer. She told me that the bluefish is done when the skewer inserted into the center comes out warm. A hot skewer meant that the fish would be over-cooked.
So the other day when I was shopping at the Union Square farmer’s market, I found myself buying my first bluefish fillet. I decided to recreate the dish with grape leaves, and the results were incredible. The fish was lean and flaky and had a nice fishy taste–cooking this fish in the grape leaves imparted so much flavor.
If you can’t find bluefish, by all means substitute with butterfish, whitefish, mackerel, or striped bass. Just make sure your fish is fresh. Fresh fish should smell like the sea and the flesh should be springy not mushy. If you’re buying a whole fish, check to see that the eyes are clear, not cloudy. Generally speaking, I prefer to cook with fish within 2 to 3 days of being caught.
There’s something really fun about cooking food inside of leaves. Since I didn’t have a fancy metal skewer, I used the tip of a meat knife to test the fish–as soon as my knife tip was warm, I took it off the grill and plated it. The sauce that accompanies the fish is acidic, salty, and full of herbs. The flavors get rounded out nicely with the sweetness from the grilled grapes and onions.
Wrapping Blue Fish Demo
Watch Me Make the Herb Sauce
Grilled Bluefish with Grape Leaves
Yield: Serves 4
- 6 red scallions or 1 red onion, sliced (see video for demo)
- 1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil total, divided
- 1 jar brined grape leaves
- Two 6-ounce skinless bluefish fillets, halved
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 anchovy fillet, mashed
- 2 tablespoons chives, minced
- 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
- In a bowl, add the onion and grapes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Light a grill or stove top griddle. Arrange 3 grape leaves so they overlap and add half a fillet on top. Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Enclose the fish, using more leaves if necessary, and brush with another 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.
- Herb Sauce: In a small bowl or blender, combine the garlic paste, lemon juice, anchovy paste, chives, parsley, and 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Grill the wrapped blue fish over high heat, turning once, until the fish is just cooked (2-3 minutes each side). Add the marinated grapes and onions to the grill pan. Grill until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Serve the fish with the herb sauce and grilled onions and grapes.
Notes: For detailed step-by-step instructions, watch the videos above. If you are vegan and would like to adapt this recipe, try wrapping the grape leaves around cooked, lightly mashed chickpeas and leave the anchovy out of the herb sauce.
Credits: This recipe was adapted from Anita Lo’s recipe contributed to Food and Wine.