Whitefish fillets: A summertime grilling favorite

By Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator for northeast Michigan

Walleye and perch, pike and panfish, salmon and lake trout – all are on the menu of flavorful fish I have the opportunity to harvest as a recreational angler. I am less adept in my recreational pursuit for lake whitefish, although there are some notable recreational whitefish fisheries such as Grand Traverse Bay and mid-November off the piers of Tawas Bay.

Since whitefish is a family favorite for our Monday evening “fish night” dinners, I take every opportunity to stock up on frozen lake whitefish fillets purchased from our Great Lakes commercial fish operators when passing through their towns (and sometimes even some smoked fish for the ride home). Looking for your local sources for fresh whitefish? Check out the Great Lakes Fresh Fish Finder or Taste The Local Difference websites.

Grilling keeps things quick and easy

Grilling whitefish is a quick and easy way to enjoy a flavorful whitefish dinner at home. Grab those whitefish fillets and let’s get started…

  • Whitefish fillets: Fresh whitefish is great if the grill is ready. Frozen fillets, which often come vacuum-sealed, can be purchased from our local Great Lakes commercial fishing operators. These frozen fillets are of similar high quality and can be stored in your own freezer until the menu matches your calendar. Frozen fillets should be thawed in the refrigerator, or vacuum-sealed fillets can be thawed a little more quickly in a water bath in the kitchen sink.
  • Prepping for the grill: Remove excess moisture from your whitefish fillets, drying as much as possible with a paper towel, which results in a firmer cooked fillet off the grill. Lightly oil the fillets with a cooking oil, such as olive oil or avocado oil, and season to your liking. I typically use lemon pepper salt, a combo seasoning (like Morton’s Nature Seasoning), or just simply salt and pepper. Sliced lemons add that last layer of flavor while your fish is on the grill. Since the fillets don’t need to be flipped, the seasonings and lemon slices can be added before the fillets hit the heat.
  • Grilling for a crisp: Heat up the grill to around 350-400 degrees. Lightly coat your grill grates with some cooking oil (you can do this with a rag or paper towel soaked in your cooking oil of choice) – this will help keep the skin of the fillet from sticking to the grill. When the grill is up to high temperature, turn off burners on one half of the grill and place your fillet, skin side down, on this “flame off” side of the grill. This allows the fish to crisp and cook without risk of burning (and sticking to the grill grate) due to direct heat. Close grill cover, and give your fish 5-10 minutes (until cooked to temperature).
  • Plate your meal and enjoy! Once the meat is cooked, and the skin side touching the grill is crisped, you can remove your fillet from the grill, plate the fillet, and round out with any side dishes to complement your fish dinner for the evening. Here we round our plate with a cucumber salad, rice pilaf, and canned corn.

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