I recently visited a seafood restaurant while out on a business trip in the Pacific North West, and had a Chilean sea bass. I ordered it grilled with chimichurri sauce, and was surprised as to how well the garlic, parsley, and olive oil flavors of the sauce complemented the light, buttery, sweet meat of the Chilean sea bass. In hindsight, the surprise was largely unwarranted; I’ve had pesto crusted white fish on numerous occasions, and chimichurri isn’t that far off. However, I think the nature of my surprise stemmed more from the fact that I’d previously had chimichurri sauce on robust meats (steaks, pork, etc.). The following meal takes its inspiration from that dinner I had at the seafood restaurant.
Instead of the Chilean sea bass, I decided to go with a halibut. I’m sure this goes without saying, but it’s important to buy your fish as fresh as possible, keep it as dry as you can, and only let it warm to room temperature when you’re ready to cook it. The key is really to buy and consume fish seasonally, from a store that can guaranty the freshness. We found a great fish market close to our house called Captain’s Catch. They only sell day-boat quality fish, and thus their prices tend to fluctuate drastically, based upon the spot market. For example, wild-caught Atlantic halibut runs between $16 and $24/lb as compared to the standard $8/lb contract price available at the local Costco), however, the difference in quality is readily noticeable. Since this recipe aims to complement the natural flavors of the fish, I went with the more expensive cut. If you’re looking to drown out the flavors of the halibut with spices and seasoning, go for a fish you can get at the $8/lb price point.
The flavor of this meal stems predominantly from the freshness of the ingredients, both in terms of the fish, and in terms of the herbs and spices that constitute the chimichurri sauce. For this reason, it’s important to not over-season the fish – just salt and pepper, nothing more. There are three very important tricks to grilling fish: (1) clean your grill rack. The grill needs to be as smooth and even-heating as possible. (2) heat your grill to as high as it will go. Fish cooks fast and you’ll have to watch it, but the soft flaky flesh requires a proper sear to not break apart while cooking, and (3) properly oil your fish. Oil your fish, not the grill. I use about a ¼ teaspoon of canola oil on the flesh side of the halibut fillet, spreading it out with my hands and making sure to form an even coat. I then season the flesh-side with salt and pepper and grill the fish, flesh-side-down. For a 2-inch thick fillet, I grill the fish for about 8-10 minutes on the flesh-side, allowing for a thick crust to form. Flip the fish and grill it skin-side-down for another 4 to 5 minutes to allow the meat to cook through.
In plating the fish, I decided to take a creative license with the “surf n’ turn” concept. While this term unarguably implies the combination of seafood with a land-based meat option (usually mammalian), I thought a better balance to the grilled halibut could be provided by a more literal interpretation of “turf”—a roasted brussels sprouts and shiitake mushroom quinoa salad. The earthy flavors of the roasted brussels sprouts and shiitake mushrooms and quinoa do well to balance out the acidity of the chimichurri sauce, while the sweetness of the caramelized onions blend in well with the sweet flaky flesh of the halibut.
Wild-caught Atlantic halibut, fillet with skin-on
Ground black pepper
Preheat grill to high heat.
Coat flesh-side and sides of halibut filet with canola oil.
Season with salt and pepper
Place on preheated grill, flesh-side-down.
Sear for 18-10 minutes, checking frequently to assess the build-up of a crust.
Flip the filet and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes, until flesh flakes off readily with a fork.