Kitchen Call: Serious summer guy grilling

Linda Bassett

The bluefish are jumping, darting, streaking and, best of all, biting.

They seem to sense the current human preoccupation with back-to-school shopping and continue to frolic closer to shore than usual without any heed to boatloads of fishermen. In Northern Atlantic waters, fishermen are hauling in more bluefish than expected this season. And friends and families are benefiting from the results.

Bluefish are different from the average New England white fish, like haddock or cod. Grilling and broiling bring out the flavor of this startlingly dark meat, closer in color to tuna than haddock and flavor with the depth of beef underlined by ocean brine.

One of the best ways to enhance this seafood is with a marinade based on mustard, and thickly applied so that it cooks up into a crust on the fillets or steaks. A shot of heat from an unexpected source like horseradish, a flurry of dried herbs and a brightening squirt of citrus.

Whisk these together. Lather them onto the fish. And treat the whole thing to a charcoal fire. In case of rain, run it under the broiler. Roasted or boiled new potatoes on the side, a fresh green salad with a citrus-y dressing and you have the makings of a restaurant-style meal.

Try this coating on other seafood as well. I’ve applied it thickly to tuna steaks — enchanting. I’ve also tried thinly coating it onto scallops, shrimp and summer vegetables like tomato wedges, thick zucchini rounds and chunks of red onion, then skewering them before grilling. Or, go one step further by cooking up some pasta. Pull the fish and veggies off the skewers and toss them with the pasta, a little olive oil, lemon juice, a dollop of Dijon mustard and some freshly snipped dill.

The mustard coating recipe is below, but keep reading: restaurant-style cowboy steaks follow.

Ever wonder why restaurant steaks taste so good? Besides getting first pick of the most beautifully marbled, thickest, juiciest steaks, restaurants enhance the outside with seasonings. They always start with salt and pepper. Then, they layer on a little something extra. When the plate hits the table, you may not be able to give the flavors a name.

For instance, the current craze for the flavors of the American Southwest, even if you’re eating in Cleveland, naturally marries with steak. So, a little cumin, a little cayenne and — here it comes — the pizzazz. Freshly ground coffee beans join the salt, cumin and ground peppers. Patted thickly onto the steaks and allowed to stand for a while before applying fire, they add dimension to the natural beef flavors.

Once you try this, you may never go back to your standby balsamic vinegar-olive oil marinade. Once you’ve tried it, you can make it your own by adjusting the seasonings to your taste. For instance, if you like heat, add more cayenne pepper. I often add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cocoa powder (sweetened or unsweetened), a little trick that makes the meat taste “meatier.” I’ve also tried a bit of chipotle powder in similar amounts.

So whether you head out to sea or the meat market, you’re set for the weekend.


Makes enough to coat 2 large, 4 small fish fillets

Because of the citrus juice, you do not want to leave this on the fish for more than 10 minutes (it’s going to take another 5 minutes to get to the grill) before grilling as citrus juice cooks fish. Be sure to throw out extra coating after use to avoid contamination.

  • 1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard (Grey Poupon or other)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill, or more to taste

1. Mix all ingredients together. Brush thickly on both sides of fish and set aside for 10 minutes while the grill heats.

2. Grill the fish on one side, then turn and brush on the other side again. Turn once more and brush the first side again, if needed. Throw out any leftover coating.


Makes enough to coat 4 steaks

After using this dry rub for the first time, you can adjust the seasonings exactly to your liking.

  • 1/3 cup fresh coffee grounds
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne (red pepper), to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (sea salt or kosher salt)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Put (nice, thick) steaks in the bowl one at a time and crust thickly on both sides with the coffee mixture. Stand the steaks on end and do the sides as well. (If the surface of the steaks is too dry, you might want to very lightly coat them with a little canola or vegetable oil so the dry rub will stick.)

2. Let the steaks marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before grilling. You can do this under the broiler as well, although the results are best with fire-cooked foods.

Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at