In Season: Golden Tilefish

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Golden Tilefish grilling over a hot fire after being rubbed with olive oil and topped with a lemon-herb rub — Courtesy Tina Miller

I first discovered golden tilefish at the Fish House, a fish market with fine meats, and delicious takeout at the airport. I also saw it on the menu at the Port Hunter restaurant in Edgartown. Both the Fish House and Port Hunter are very particular about where they source fish and the sustainability of the species. I had never tried golden tilefish and wondered where it was from.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, golden tilefish are “found along the outer continental shelf and slope from Nova Scotia, Canada to Suriname. The golden tilefish fishery in the U.S. is managed from Maine through Virginia, with the majority of the fishery concentrated between Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, south to Cape May, New Jersey; more specifically between Hudson and Veatch Canyons. The market for golden tilefish is for human consumption and is often used in sushi. U.S. wild-caught golden tilefish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.”

So that’s the science, but I wanted to know what it cooked like and tasted like so I asked the co-owner of the Fish House, Tyler Gibson, to fill me in and tell me what to expect.

He said they are a slow-growing fish, taking a few years to reproduce and can live to almost 50 years old. Tilefish come from the deep canyons near Georges Banks.

“They have large white flakes and are firm, similar to striped bass,” he said, “but it’s not fishy tasting at all like striped bass can be. It has a delicate, sweet flavor.”

I decided I wanted to grill this gorgeous new fish but didn’t want to mess up, so I analyzed the method carefully.

Grilling most any fish takes some technique. The easiest are fish like tuna and swordfish which have dense, steak-like textures that allow them to sit flat on a hot grill. This makes it less complicated to cook evenly and easier to turn over. I will grill most fish, except for cod and flounder; I find them too delicate — there’s too much risk of leaving half the fish stuck to the grill.

Tilefish is very firm but does have large white flakes, so you are in between a dense flat steak fish and a delicate white fish. 

I came up with this technique which was new to me, though I am sure, as with all cooking methods, it has been done before. Make a tinfoil sheet pan with several sheets of foil, leaving enough foil to pull up edges, almost making an open pouch. I tried this with the tilefish, and with salmon and halibut. It created a crispy outer crust and a moist, juicy filet inside. 

Grilled Golden Tilefish

Prepare a few sheets of foil to create a layer strong enough to lift then set aside.

Rub olive oil over the whole filet of fish. Set skin side down. 

Season with salt and pepper and evenly coat the top of the fish with a dry rub or seasoning mix. I used a lemon-herb rub that they sold at the Fish House and coated the entire top of the filet. 

Be sure your grill is very hot. Oil your grill grate and quickly add your fish filet, top side down. Grill your fish for about 4 minutes, so a nice crispy crust is created. Tilefish filets are thick and will take a while to cook.

Very carefully flip the fish to skin side down and grill for another 3 minutes, nice and hot.

Move fish off the direct grill onto your tinfoil and continue cooking another 5 minutes or so, until the fish is cooked in the center. Remember timing all depends on the thickness of the fish and the heat of the grill. Spritz with fresh lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.