Tom Kitchin: Fish and shellfish cooked on the barbeque can be absolutely delicious

THE start of summer hasn’t given cause for organising many barbecues yet but, ever hopeful of a little sunny Scottish weather, I want to share some more ideas for when the weather does brighten up.

I’m a big fan of barbecuing as it’s such a fantastic way to achieve a distinctive flavour. Those who follow my column will have picked up last week’s barbecued meat recipes, and it’s true that meat done skilfully on a barbecue is hard to beat. But this wonderful cooking method lends itself to all different types of produce and inspiring dishes.

It’s not just meat that can be magical on the barbecue – there’s plenty of choice for those who prefer seafood or vegetarian options too, and it’s a perfect opportunity to show off and enjoy some of the season’s best ingredients.

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Fish and shellfish cooked on the barbecue can be absolutely delicious. If you visit your local fishmonger, often the best option is to try the catch of the day. That way, all it will need is a little seasoning, a light grilling and some side dishes of salad or vegetables to taste outstanding. Your fishmonger can also help you choose the right type of fish, as well as preparing it the way you like it, ready for the barbecue.

Cooking fish this way may seem slightly daunting if you haven’t tried it before, but actually if you choose the right species, the right method and handle it with care, you can create some really flavoursome dishes.

Unlike some meat recipes that can be slow-cooked on the barbecue, fish and shellfish need much less time and much more attention, as they can cook very quickly. Before you even start, it’s important to clean your barbecue grill as well as you can, just as you would your indoor cooking appliances. A clean grill will reduce the chances of your fish sticking to it or crumbling. Another way to help avoid sticking is to lightly brush the grill with oil before you start your barbecuing.

I would suggest that once you put the fish on the barbecue you shouldn’t take your eyes off it, but at the same time, try to avoid the temptation to keep touching it. The best way is to carefully cook it on one side, then turn it when it’s done and leave it to cook lightly on the other side – so there’s limited handling and less chance of flaking, breaking or burning. Keeping the skin on can also be a good way to keep the fish together.

You can tell that fish is cooked when it turns opaque on the side closest to the heat. Once it’s opaque all the way through, it’s done.

In general, when it comes to cooking fish on a barbecue, salmon fillets, small cuts, kebabs and shellfish should all be cooked over a direct heat, while whole fish should be cooked over indirect heat. If you’re barbecuing flaky fish like cod or haddock, for example, it’s best to wrap it in tin foil to form a tray that will hold it together and also contain all the juices and flavours.

Kebabs are a fantastic way to combine fish or shellfish with vegetables in an easy, portable form, and they can include lots of different seasonal flavour matches to suit your or your guests’ tastes. If you’re making your own, choose fish like salmon, cod, monkfish or turbot, and shellfish also work very well.

To cook a whole fish, make a few deep cuts on both sides and stuff or marinate it with herbs and lemon. For me, cooking whole fish on a barbecue is one of life’s simple pleasures – eating the produce straight from nature and at its optimum freshness.

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Shellfish normally take just a few minutes on the grill. I love to cook them in their shell, which not only retains the juices but also makes for impressive presentation – and can save on the washing up. Alternatively, wrapping them in another ingredient – such as scallops wrapped in pancetta – can protect delicate shellfish from direct heat and also lends a dash of saltiness to the sweet scallops.

A number of years ago, I was working for a family in Barbados as a private chef. On a few occasions I was lucky enough to take part in arranging a barbecue on the beach with some of the locals. These guys really knew how to barbecue food.

We would dig a hole in the sand, light a barbecue in the ground and cook on top of it. What I loved was cooking the freshly caught fish, seasoned with Barbadian spices and usually a generous splash of rum. That’s how barbecues should be enjoyed – gathering your friends, taking fresh food and giving it that extra flavour this cooking method lends.

Hopefully just trying some of these easy recipes will give you a little confidence to try lots of different fresh new things on the barbecue. Now all we need is some sunshine.

Scallops Wrapped in Pancetta

whole scallops

slices of pancetta

1 tbsp olive oil

lemon zest

black pepper

1 handful herbs (sprigs 
of rosemary, thyme and 
bay leaves work well)

short skewers


Take your herbs and gather them together, tying them tightly around the bottom so you create a brush-like effect at one end. There are no rules as to which herbs to use – choose the flavours you enjoy most.

Mix the olive oil and lemon zest with a little black pepper. Dip the herb brush into the oil and then carefully stroke your scallops, coating them generously in the oil, before letting them marinade for a couple of hours – if you have the time.

Wrap the pancetta around each scallop and secure with 
a small skewer before placing on the barbecue at a medium to high heat. Scallops only 
take moments to cook so a 
few minutes on each side should be enough, depending on their size.

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Serve with fresh salad, 
some seasonal asparagus 
and a wedge of lemon.

Seafood Kebabs

Visit your local fishmonger and select any combination of seafood you wish. Salmon, prawns and cod work really well, but anything you can get your hands on that’s fresh and local will work.

I’ve recommended a marinade here but you can 
add a variety of herbs to suit your taste. You can also combine the seafood with a selection of your favourite seasonal vegetables – such 
as courgettes, aubergines 
and garlic – it really is entirely up to you.

For the marinade

1 tsp chopped garlic

1 handful herbs (sprigs of 
bay leaves, rosemary and thyme work well)

1 tsp thinly sliced chillies

zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp chopped mint

100ml natural yoghurt

1 tsp chopped ginger

wooden or metal skewers


Firstly soak your wooden skewers in water to stop them from burning during cooking.

Cut your fish into roughly same-sized chunks or cubes. Make sure they are big enough to achieve the right flavour and avoid burning – around one inch across is about right. Make sure the chunks are evenly sized so all the pieces on the kebab are cooked at the same time.

Thread the fish and vegetables on to the skewers.

Combine all the marinade ingredients – the garlic, herbs, chillies, lemon zest, mint, yogurt and ginger – in a bowl and then whisk.

Place the completed kebab skewers in the fresh marinade for one or two hours, which will allow the fish to absorb all the lovely flavours.

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When you’re almost ready to eat, place the skewers on the barbecue and cook on a medium to high heat for four 
to five minutes.

These kebabs are best served fresh from the barbecue.