Friday, February 20, 2009

Cooking 101: Why Your Broiler Should Be Your Best Friend!

If I'm not having my fish raw at Sushi Nozawa, I love it grilled! Nothing tastes better than a big hunk of fish cooked over an open flame. Not only is grilling supremely healthy requiring almost no oil, but it's also a delicious way to prepare about any kind of meat. However, there are major downsides. First, grilling can be weather dependent, so unless you're hardcore like Bobby Flay, you'll probably only be grilling during certain times of the year, and only on days with nice weather. Second, a grill can be a hassle to set up and to clean, especially if you use charcoal. Third, many people live in homes or apartments that aren't conducive to housing a grill.

But did you know that lurking in almost every kitchen in America is a built in grill? One that can be used year round with minimal clean up? That's right! It's called a broiler, and every oven should have one. Broiling is a method of cooking where the food is placed near a heat source located above the food. "A broiler is basically an upside down grill," said my Top Chef Brother, Jared Rogers, Chef at Picco's Restaurant in San Francisco. In fact, in Great Britain broiling actually means grilling. Most restaurant kitchens are equipped with a fancy broiler called a Salamander. In an electric oven, broiling can be done by placing the food near the top heat source with the bottom source turned off and the oven cracked. In a gas oven, like 1970s era stove in the Diva's kitchen, there's usually a separate drawer underneath the oven for broiling.

My Top Chef Brother

So even though most kitchens have a broiler, I find that they're one of the most underutilized tools in the kitchen. Broiling is possibly my favorite method for cooking fish. It's quick, extremely health necessitating almost no oil and produces perfectly cooked fish. "Fish is great under there," agreed my Top Chef Brother, noting that many restaurants cook their fish this way.

My adventures in broiling began when my boyfriend, Kuzak, whose eyes usually glaze over when I attempt to discuss the minutia of cooking technique with him, perked up at the suggestion of broiling fish. "When I was a kid, my ninety year old grandma used to order broiled fish when we'd go out to eat," he explained. Seizing on that inspiration, I embarked on months of experimental broiling until I perfected my technique. Lucky for you divas, I can share both my broiling wisdom and recipes with you!

Broiling Tips:

1) Due to the high heat, I've found that cast iron works best for broiling. It's sturdy, non-stick for easier clean up and can withstand high temperatures. I use Le Crueset's cast iron grill almost exclusively (see DD's Amazon Store). The rivets on the bottom give the food an authentic grilled feel. This amazing pan will last a lifetime!

2) Fattier, steakier fish holds up better under the high heat! Fish ideal for broiling include Swordfish, Tuna, Sea Bass (WF's carries some that is sustainably fished), Mahi-Mahi and Cod. Basically, a good rule of thumb is anything you'd throw on your grill will be good broiled!

3) To avoid flipping, and because your heat source comes from above, you should preheat your grill pan under the broiler for at 5 minutes, or until very hot, before adding your fish. This way, your protein cooks from below and above at the same time. When you toss the fish on there, it should sizzle!

4) Before you cook your meat, take it out of the fridge and allow it to warm up. If the middle of the meat is still really cold, then it won't cook evenly. This rule applies for grilling also. At least 20 minutes should do the trick. Plus, this gives you a chance to apply my quick marinade recipe below!

5) Better to under cook your fish and allow to rest than to overcook. Dried out fish is the worst, and when working with high heat, there's a higher risk you'll overdo it. So opt for undercooking, and allowing the fish to rest for a few minutes, covered with aluminum foil if necessary. My Top Chef Brother taught me that a good way to discern doneness without cutting your meat open, is to prod the flesh gently with your fingers. Undercooked or raw fish will have a jello-like, rubbery quality. As it cooks, it will begin to firm up. By working with fish, and feeling it out, you'll get the hang of this method.

6) Broiling isn't only reserved for fish! It's an amazing way to cook steaks, too. Or, just about any other meat you'd normally grill! And the same rules apply no matter what protein you're using!

If you learn how to do one new cooking technique this year, I highly recommend broiling. It's healthy, versatile and allows you to make quick, healthy meals like a pro! So dive in and make your broiler your new best friend! Here's are some quick recipes to get you started.

Domestic Diva's Broiled Mahi-Mahi

DD's Quick Marinade:

1 lb Mahi-Mahi
(or other steaky fish) rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper
(optional - leave off if you don't like spice!)
salt and pepper


Remove fish from the oven and allow to warm for about 20 minutes before cooking.

While it's coming to room temp, coat it with 1 tbsp of the lemon juice, the olive oil and the cayenne pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, preheat your broiler by choosing the broil setting on your oven. Make sure to crack the door to keep the heat source from turning off. About 5-10 minutes before you're ready to start cooking, place your cast iron pan under the broiler, allowing it to heat.

Once it's searing hot, remove the pan and add your fish. It should sizzle when it touches the pan. Then, return the pan to the oven, placing it under the heat source. Allow the fish to broil for approximately 10-15 minutes, checking for doneness. Depending on the thickness, cooking times may vary. Once the fish is almost cooked, remove from the broiler and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Then, remove the fish from the cast iron pan, lifting it out of its skin, and serve. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice.

For my dinner last night, I broiled Mahi-Mahi and served it with mixed brown rice, DD's Sauteed Kale (click here for recipe) and grilled mini bell peppers.

Continuing the indoor grilling them, I placed my peppers directly in the flame of my gas stove top, searing them until the outsides were blackened and the peppers cooked. Then, I removed the skins (they slough off after searing) and sliced them.

To plate, first I warmed my dishes for 45 seconds in the microwave (never serve your food on cold plates!). I added brown rice to the bottom of my dish and topped with a serving of kale.

Last but not least, I placed my fish on top and covered it with the peppers.

The meal was absolutely delicious and couldn't have been healthier! We paired it with a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir.

Wine Pairing Notes: William Selyem 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

With this delicate fish, we decided to pair this lighter bodied pinot noir from William Selyem, one of the original, boutique pinot noir producers in California. A well-made wine, it was lovely with lots of great fruit and berry flavors that went well with the fish. Robert Parker gave it a respectable 88 points.


  1. Looks gorgeous! Your man is a lucky man... assuming he was able to leave work in time to eat it.

  2. I've always heard of broiling with a broiler pan - what are your thoughts on those? There's a lot more cleanup...

  3. Broiler pans work, but as you mention, the cleanup is a bitch! By using a cast iron pan as I recommend, the cleanup is a cinch. In my oven, I actually remove the broiler pan and put my cast iron down there instead. And it's healthier than sauteeing fish in a pan because you can use no oil if you want!