Food & Drink

Hot and Hot’s Simple Grilled Fish

Serves 6

A smoky, sweet grouper with tomato, avocado, and Vidalia onions

grouper hot and hot fish club

What would a James Beard Award-winning chef cook for dinner on a summer night off? “The first thing that comes to mind is a quick grilled fish, served with a simple summer salad,” says Chris Hastings, chef and owner, with wife Idie, of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, “like our grouper with tomato, avocado, and grilled Vidalia onions.”

“I love using vinaigrettes instead of heavier sauces in the summer, and lighter fats like olive oil and avocado for richness,” Hastings says. “And the acidity of the vinaigrette goes great with the smoky, sweet flavor of the grilled fish and onions.”

Cooking fish on the grill can be intimidating, so Hastings offers a few tips:

1) Use a natural charcoal, piled into a chimney starter and lit with newspaper or paraffin lighters, not lighter fluid.

2) Scrub the grill grate really clean with a brush, then, with a dry towel, rub the dust and residue off the grate.

3) Lubricate the grate with a paper towel that has been dipped in oil, holding it with tongs if the grill is hot.

4) When the coals are really hot, put the oiled and seasoned fish on the grill, flesh side (not skin side) down, and leave it alone until it releases from the grate on its own before flipping.

5) Also, be sure to bring the fish to room temperature before grilling. “If you don’t bring the fish to room temperature before grilling it,” he says, “the outside will be dry before the inside is cooked through.”


    • 2 large Vidalia onions, each cut into 1-inch thick slices (about 5 or 6 slices each)

    • 1/4 cup olive oil

    • 1 Tbs. kosher salt, divided

    • 2 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

    • 4 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes, each cored and cut into 1-inch thick slices

    • 4 ripe Haas avocados, halved, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch thick slices

    • 2/3 cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

    • 1 cup fresh lime juice

    • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    • 6 (6-oz.) grouper fillets

    • 3 cups fresh arugula


  1. Preheat the grill to high heat (400˚F to 450˚ F).

  2. Arrange the onion slices on a baking sheet and brush lightly with the olive oil. Season the onions lightly with a ½ teaspoon of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. Grill the onion slices for 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until tender, sweet, and slightly charred. Transfer the grilled slices to a mixing bowl and separate the rings. Add the tomato and avocado slices to the onion rings and set aside.

  3. In a separate bow, whisk together the lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and chopped basil. Toss the vinaigrette with the grilled onion mixture and season the salad with 1 teaspoon of the salt and a ½ teaspoon of the pepper. Allow the salad to marinate at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. (This allows the avocados to break down a little and slightly thicken the vinaigrette.)

  4. Season the fish fillets on both sides with the remaining 1½ teaspoons of salt and 1½ teaspoons of pepper. Place the fillets on the hot grill and cook for 6 to 7 minutes or until the fillets begin to pull away and loosen from the grill rack. Turn and cook an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until the fillets are golden brown and cooked through. Remove the fillets from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

  5. Arrange one marinated tomato slice in the center of each of six dinner plates. Using a slotted spoon, place onion and avocado slices on top of the tomato. Top each salad with a second marinated tomato slice. Spoon several tablespoons of the vinaigrette over and around each salad. Arrange the grilled grouper fillets on top of each salad. Toss the arugula in the mixing bowl with the remaining vinaigrette. Top each fish fillet with a small mound of the arugula. Serve immediately.

Adapted from The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Family, and Traditions (Running Press, 2009)