Of all the foods I throw on the grill, fish is probably the easiest for other people to recognize. If you have a high-quality piece of freshly caught fish, a little lemon, salt, and pepper may be all you need to make it grill ready. But I find that approach works best if you’re following my dad’s mantra: “You catch it, you clean it, you cook it, you eat it.” These days, I apply that philosophy to homegrown and grilled veg. For store-bought fish, I tend to bring out the flavor with an easy marinade.
I’ve been making a North African-inspired marinade for years, modifying and tweaking it until it reminds me of the spicy olives I fell for while traveling in Morocco and blends in some of the runaway cilantro and mint from the garden. To pull together a meal off the stovetop, I turn to my favorite trick for couscous, often making a big enough batch to turn the leftovers into a separate, second meal.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 2 main ingredients plus a bunch of spices and some fresh herbs.
1. Mix the marinade.
2. Pour it over the fish and let it rest.
3. Grill and enjoy.
North African-Inspired Grilled Fish
6 garlic scapes or 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Harissa (North African-Inspired Chili Paste)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 pounds fish fillets, such as tilapia, snapper, or catfish
Sunflower or other high-smoking-point oil for grilling
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
Prep all ingredients as noted in the ingredient list, zesting the lemon and setting the zest aside before you squeeze out the juice. In a small glass measuring cup, combine the garlic, herbs, spices, lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil. Pour a little marinade in a wide container with a lid, lay in the fish, and pour in the remaining marinade. Refrigerate the fish for up to 1 hour.
Brush a hot grill with sunflower oil. Remove the fish from marinade, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and place it directly on the hot oiled grill alongside any vegetables. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, until the center just starts to turn opaque and flake. As the fish cooks, brush on the remaining marinade if desired. Serve immediately with some of the grilled vegetables and couscous, saving the rest for a next-day salad (see below). Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- Harissa is a key flavor in this marinade. You can make your own using my recipe in The Complete Guide to Pickling. Substituting Home-Smoked Chili Paste will give a somewhat different but equally tasty spin.
- The fresh herbs are also key here. Dried works in a pinch, but you won’t get quite the same bright bite. Out of season, I think Salt-Preserved Herbs are a better substitute.
- This marinade adapts well to meatier fish such as halibut, swordfish, or mackerel. The flavor penetrates best if you cut the fish into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes and thread it onto skewers. Rather than skewering on vegetables, I often let the fish cook to its ideal texture and grill the sides separately, serving the meal with pickled or fermented onions for a fun flavor twist.
Twice as Tasty
The challenge becomes grains. Unless you have a portable burner, you might find yourself rushing between the grill and the house as you keep your eye on a pot of quinoa or rice. My solution is instant couscous. Cruising cooking taught me that I can boil extra water when making morning coffee, immediately pour it into a well-built thermos, and have hot-enough water to pour over and cook couscous for a midday or evening meal. Even if you don’t trust your thermos to keep the water hot enough, you can simply boil the water and let the couscous soak it up off the heat while you grill everything else. Here’s the recipe I share in my Fine Dining camping and cruising workshops.
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1-1/2 cups boiling water
Combine the couscous, butter, and cinnamon if desired in a medium heatproof container. Pour the boiling water over the grains; stir well, cover, and let sit 10–15 minutes to absorb the liquid. Fluff the grains with a fork until they separate, and then divide among plates and serve with North African-Inspired Grilled Fish or another main dish. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- When I make this couscous on the water, I use a collapsible silicone bowl that can withstand the heat and store leftovers right inside it. The model I use appears to be discontinued; I recommend buying one with a well-locking lid that’s sturdy enough it only collapses when you want it to.
- I love a dash of cinnamon in my couscous, but it’s optional—especially when you’re topping it with flavorful marinated fish.
- It’s easy enough to make this side grain fresh for each meal, but leftovers can get a second life in a salad. After your fish meal, store your leftover grilled vegetables until the next meal and then toss them into the couscous, along with some fresh herbs, toasted almonds, and fromage blanc or goat cheese.
- For a salad with a surprise twist, mix in some fresh berries, along with the grilled veg. You’ll just need a squeeze of lemon and splash of oil for dressing.
You can get my recipes for Harissa (North African-Inspired Chili Paste) plus fun pickled onions, salsas, chutneys, and more in my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. Click here to order a personally signed, packaged, and shipped copy directly from me. I share more tasty treats to serve with couscous in The Pickled Picnic, a digital collection in an easy-to-read PDF format. It’s available exclusively through Twice as Tasty.