Do Not Turn This Perfect Broiled Fish

by Kelly on April 19, 2010   

Left to right: Cod with a garlic and breadcrumb top, halibut with butter and sautéed leeks, and whitefish with bacon and rosemary

The constant, looming problem with cooking fish is turning it. When fish is perfectly cooked it is also falling apart (most varieties, anyway), so to turn it midway through this process is to risk some destruction. This isn’t helped by the fact that most spatulas are shaped to accommodate the chop, the egg or the patty — not a long, ungainly thing like fish.

It was the husband who stumbled upon the solution to this problem some decades back. He pre-heated the heck out of a heavy black baking sheet we have, prepped the fish on a piece of foil, and when the pan was nearly molten under the broiler he slid the whole piece of foil, with fish, onto the hot surface. We immediately heard the wonderful sizzle of cooking fish coming from the underside. Then the top side broiled beautifully and quickly. In under 5 minutes or so the fish was perfectly cooked to tender (not dry!) in the middle, with a nice broiled top and browned on the pan side.

Since then I’ve experimented with different ways to prep the fish for the broiler, and while most anything works nicely, some things will burn if not pre-cooked a little. So garlic, mushrooms, leeks, breadcrumbs and the like should be sautéed beforehand and added 2 or 3 minutes into cooking so they brown but not burn.

The black baking sheet in question

My baking sheet is describe here under the Tools tab. It is really a great pan, but any heavy baking sheet or large oven-proof pan will work fine.

Broiled Cod with Breadcrumbs, Broiled Halibut with Sautéed Leeks, and Broiled Whitefish with Bacon and Rosemary

Here are three ideas for broiling fish. This technique works with almost any variety — I’ve even tried it with shrimp and it’s wonderful.

Cod fillet
Halibut fillet
Whitefish fillet
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes
1 slice bacon, chopped
4-inch sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1 leek, white part, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven rack on the rail closest to the broiler element and turn the broiler to high. Preheat the baking sheet under the broiler for at least 10 minutes.

Sometimes these pans will warp under all that heat, but it doesn't hurt the fish

Rub the dull side of a piece of foil (one the size of your pan) with a little olive oil and place the fish fillets, skin side down if applicable, on the foil.

The whitefish has skin, the other two do not, but the cod has an obvious "skin-side"

For the cod, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive over low and gently cook the garlic slices and red pepper flakes until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Cook the garlic gently to keep it from over-browning -- that makes it bitter

For the whitefish, gently sauté the chopped bacon and rosemary in a drizzle of olive oil.

No need to cook until crisp since it do that under the broiler

For the halibut, sauté the sliced leeks in a drizzle of olive oil until wilting, about 5 minutes. Set aside until needed.

The onion-garlic flavor of leeks go nicely with halibut

Spoon some of the garlic and oil onto the cod. Pour the remaining oil and garlic over the breadcrumbs and toss well to coat. Dot the halibut with butter, and spread the oil, bacon and rosemary evenly over the whitefish. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

The fish ready for the broiler

Pull the pan out of the broiler and carefully lift or slide the foil onto the hot pan. Place immediately back in the broiler.

After about 3 minutes, sprinkle the cod with the oiled breadcrumbs and return to the oven.

The fish is nearly done at this point, but the breadcrumbs need to cook

Fish is done when its flakes or layers can be easily separated with a fork. It should not be pink between the flakes but a moist, pearly white. When the halibut is cooked, spoon the leeks over the top and run under the broiler for a few more seconds, enough to just brown the top.

The leeks need only half a minute to brown under the broiler

Remove the cooked fish from the oven and allow it to sit for one minute. Loosen from the foil and serve.

This is so quick to make there’s hardly enough time to make a salad — or open a nice bottle of vino.

Kelly McCune © 2010

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