Halibut Season

I have been meaning to write up my old stand-bys, the ones my sister begged me to start blogging about right from the beginning. The store cupboard favorites; the fast, straightforward menus that everyone should have in their back pocket. I really meant to write about what my friend Candice refers to as Mexican Fiesta today. I really did. Mexican Fiesta is a wonderful concept. It’s easily scalable, accommodating 2-20 people with little fuss. It can be very simple or elaborate. Trader Joe’s can do a lot of the work or none.  I love Mexican Fiesta. In fact, we had the perfect mid-range Mexican Fiesta on Saturday, with pictures and everything, that I have been trying to find time to write up. But I got side-tracked…

That’s because halibut season began this week. My neighbor Susan reminded me about it yesterday.  What you need to look for is Pacific halibut and here is why: Pacific halibut is caught on long-lines which cause little to no environmental damage. These fish are not over-fished and are rated the best choice of all the flat fish by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH. I am so thankful that there are environmentally friendly halibut to eat because halibut is completely delicious. A firm yet tender fish, it is mild yet meaty. I love it.

Initially when I glanced at the recipe and saw three sections of preparation, I quailed. Wednesday is not the easiest day to try something new, let alone something that has three separate parts to produce. Then I started reading the recipe through. Clearly each part was very easy. The result was totally delicious and not at all boring old run-of-the-mill. The recipe explores the incredibly useful sear-roasting technique, allowing the cook to caramelize the exterior of the fish while protecting the moist interior. It’s a simple approach that we all should master.

Halibut Menu

Serves 4

  • Sear-Roasted Halibut with Horseradish Aïoli and Lemon Zest Breadcrumbs
  • Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes
  • Hot buttered peas

Game Plan

About 40 minutes prepwhen I write that I am assuming that all the ingredients have been assembled, i.e. the breadcrumbs are already made, the lemon zest has been grated  etc. – as stated in the recipe

  1. 40 minutes before you want to eat: peel 4 large yukon gold potatoes, cut into 2-3″ chunks and put them in a pot of water: cover by at least 1″.  Set to boil.
  2. Place peas and water in the steamer in a pot on the stove.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  4. Prepare Halibut recipe’s breadcrumbs and aïoli.
  5. Check potatoes. When nearly soft enough for mashing, begin searing the halibut.
  6. When the fish is in the oven, start steaming the peas. Then mash the potatoes with plenty of whole milk, butter, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dress parsley salad.

Sear-Roasted Halibut with Horseradish Aïoli and Lemon Zest Breadcrumbs

This recipe was originally printed in Fine Cooking and authored by Seattle chef Tom Douglas.

Lemon Zest Breadcrumbs

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs (from a rustic loaf)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Make the lemon zest bread crumbs:

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat – the oil should shimmer.
  2. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until golden and crunchy – about 2 minutes
  3. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.
  4. Add the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Taste it! Make sure you’ve added enough salt and pepper. It should taste so you want to eat more of it.

Horseradish Aïoli

  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp bottled horseradish
  • 3/4 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the aïoli:

In a small bowl stir together all the ingredients. Taste as you add the salt and pepper. This sauce was so delicious that my 3-year-old got a spoon and was eating it like pudding – albeit a mayonnaise-based, horseradish-flavored pudding!


  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 thick skinless halibut fillets – about 6oz each
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fresh flat leaf parsley, washed and dried
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Sear roast the fish:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy non-stick skillet over medium high heat  (I don’t have an oven safe non-stick skillet – at least the handle doesn’t look like it should go in the oven – so I wrap the handle with a couple of layers of aluminum foil)
  3. Pat the fish dry and season with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
  4. When the oil is shimmering, place the fillets in the pan, skinned side up. Sear for 2 minutes. Don’t keep checking or moving the fish around. If you fuss with it you’ll ruin the sear.
  5. After 2 minutes lift up a corner to see that the fillets are nicely browned. Flip them and remove pan from the heat.
  6. Spread the aïoli over each fillet and then layer with bread crumbs. Put the pan in the preheated oven for 5 or 6 minutes.
  7. While the fish is roasting, toss the parsley with the juice of half the lemon and 1 tsp of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste it. Does it need more salt and pepper? Cut the remaining lemon-half into wedges and use them to garnish each plate.
  8. Remove the fish from the oven and plate with parsley salad tossed artfully over the top (I didn’t quite manage the artful part – good luck with that), mashed potatoes and buttered peas.

In anticipation of this menu, my 7-year-old became very dramatic: sighing, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He even asked if he would be able to eat “something different”. And yet he ate every last scrap. We all did.

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