It’s a recurring theme in life: you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until you no longer have it. For me, I could say this about wrinkle-free skin (kids: wear sunscreen!), having family within an hour’s drive, and fresh Pacific halibut. Growing up near Seattle, I never realized what a novelty and luxury this seemingly-ubiquitous white fish was. In fact, I never really sought it out, unless it was beer-battered and fried. Then I moved away. Then, during a visit home early one summer, my mom made this recipe from BC chef Karen Barnaby’s Pacific Passions cookbook. Whoa – what a revelation! Now I crave halibut but can almost never find it here in New Jersey. I find myself fervently scanning the fish counters about this time each year – awaiting, hoping for the arrival of some glistening white Alaskan halibut filets. Finally, just last week, I struck fish gold.
Alaskan halibut is a mild-tasting, lean and highly versatile fish. I had always assumed it was related to sea bass or grouper, but just recently learned it’s actually the largest member of the flounder family. While I’m still a fan of beer-battered halibut & chips, this recipe (adapted from Karen Barnaby’s) is a go-to for an easy yet restaurant-y (and to my surprise, kid-friendly) meal. At over $25 per pound, though, halibut is a bit (!) of a splurge. By some accounts, a portion of fish is supposed to be 4 ounces, so a pound and a half of halibut should yield 6 servings. (Karen’s recipe calls for 6-ounce portions.) Feel free to adjust the filet/portion size to your preference. If you’re looking to stretch the halibut into smaller portions (like I do), you could serve this with olive oil and garlic-tossed pasta or oven-baked “fries” (recipe below). Also note that you could make this crust topping for any white fish – just adjust the cooking time depending on the thickness of the filet.
Finally – a word on fish skin. It’s just not my thing. I know – this is babyish; I don’t really like organ meats either, which is why I will never be a “real” chef. Anyway, I remove the skin from the halibut filets before preparing this recipe. You could (some might say should) leave the skin on, if your filets come with the skin on, and just place the filets skin-side down on the baking sheet. Or, you could do what I plan to do next time and ask the fish guy to remove the skin for you. (It’s trickier than it looks.)
Pine Nut and Parmesan-Crusted Halibut
- 1/2 cup raw pine nuts (pignoli), chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
- 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
- 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano) cheese
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ lbs fresh halibut, cut into four 6-ounce or six 4-ounce filets
- Kosher salt
Heat oven to 425ºF. In a small bowl, combine chopped pine nuts, garlic, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil.
Place the halibut filets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt. Scoop some pine nut mixture with a spoon or your fingers and cover the tops of the halibut filets, pressing and patting lightly to form an even crust. [Can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for several hours before baking.]
Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes (or 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness) until the crust is golden and the fish is opaque and firm but not hard. Hard means overcooked – which can happen quickly, especially when you’re trying to get the crust golden and the rest of the dinner ready. When in doubt, pull it out! (Or – use a digital thermometer; 140º is done.)
Easy Oven Fries
Cook these on the bottom rack of the oven while you’re preparing the fish. Make sure they’ve started to brown and are close to done before adding the fish to the oven.
- Russet (Idaho) potatoes (1 large potato makes about 2 servings, so use as many as you need)
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
Heat oven to 425ºF. Wash potatoes and cut into thin (½” – ¾”) wedges. Mound onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. (Enough to coat all sides.) Loosely arrange in a single layer (using additional baking sheets if necessary) and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake for 20 minutes or until starting to brown. Use a spatula to flip wedges. (Confession: this isn’t really necessary if you’ve used enough oil; all sides will brown, but the pan-side will be crisper.) Serve immediately, seasoning with more salt if necessary.