Remember that mango salsa we just made? Let’s put it to work on a grilled piece of fish.
I’m using Pacific (wild caught) halibut here (skin on). It’s in season and looked super fresh at my local grocery story. It rang up at $24 a pound, which sounds like a lot, but did I mention it was fresh, in season and wild caught?
I bought 12 ounces ($18) and fed three people… that’s $6 a person for the protein. I could have fed four if I had added another vegetable. Of course, if you have a hearty eater, then 12 ounces might only feed two.
Back when I taught cooking classes — true story — people begged me to do a fish class, as they were polishing off molasses marinated beef tenderloin or macadamia nut crusted fried chicken.
“Teach us how to cook fish,” they’d say.
And, so, I’d put a fish class on the schedule and guess what? No one signed up. So I’d switch it to bacon and Portabello stuffed beef tenderloin with a port reduction and sell out with a waiting list. Why was that? I have a couple theories.
1.) Cooking fish is scary. (Couldn’t be further from the truth.)
2.) Eating healthy fish sounds good in theory, but gimme my meat & potatoes!
If you relate to the first reason, don’t be scared. I’m going to teach you how to not overcook your fish. Rule number one, cooking time is going to be so fast you won’t have time to finish a glass of rosé, like you would if you were cooking meat.
In fact, you need to be ready to hit the table with all the side dishes before you put your fish in a pan or on the grill.
When you invest in a superb piece of fish, resist the urge to do anything to it other than a simple seasoning. You can use sea salt and freshly ground pepper, but my favorite seasoning for halibut is lemon pepper. I use Penzey’s Lemon Pepper blend. It has plenty of salt so you don’t need to add additional salt. Pepper, on the other hand, is a different story. I love, love, love pepper so I add some freshly ground pepper in addition to the lemon pepper blend.
You may have heard the old adage regarding fish cookery that it takes 10 minutes per inch of thickness. I disagree. I think it takes less, and it really depends on the type of fish (and how much fat it has) and how you like to eat it.
If you eat raw fish sushi, then you probably don’t want to cook your fish more than medium temperature — and medium rare is even better. For an inch thick piece of halibut, that’s about 7 to 8 minutes over a medium-high grill. If you’ve ever had cooked fish in a restaurant that tastes “fishy,” most likely it was overcooked.
Here are my tips for grilling halibut that’s about an inch thick (and yes, it’s OK to measure it with a ruler so you know exactly how thick your fish is. If it’s less than an inch thick, but at least 1/2-inch thick, shave off some cooking time, a minute or two should do):
- Take the fish straight from the fridge to the grill. Cold fish will help you not overcook it. You can season it up to half hour before you cook it, but put it back in the fridge.
- Don’t put the fish on the grill until the grill is super hot.
- Make sure both the fish and the grill are oiled to prevent sticking. I don’t oil the grill until just before I put the fish on it. I use tongs and wadded up paper towels soaked (but not dripping) in peanut or canola oil. Just wipe it quickly so that the paper towels don’t catch fire.
- Put the flesh side down first to get grill marks. But once it’s down, don’t move it, don’t touch it — don’t even LOOK at it for at least 3 to 4 minutes. It will most certainly stick if you do.
- Invest in a good fish flipping spatula like this one from OXO. Flip it and finish cooking skin side down until it’s medium rare (135 degrees F.) or medium (140 degrees F.) if you want to measure by thermometer, but I touch it and if it’s firm but gives a bit, it’s probably ready). If it’s an inch thick in the thickest part of the fillet, you’ll only need to cook it another 3 minutes (to the 3 or 4 you cooked on the flesh side).
- Take it off the grill and let it rest a couple minutes before plating. I serve it without the skin, with the grill marks facing up. If it rests a couple minutes, it’s easy to slide the fish spatula between the fish and the skin, leaving the skin behind.
It takes a little practice to get the fish cooked to your liking. It’s better to err on undercooking than overcooking. You can always cook it more.
I hope these tips are helpful. Halibut is a delicious, mild fish with a firm texture and it really shines with the sweet, spicy, tangy mango salsa.
Most of all, I hope you give it a try… just for the halibut. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
- 12 ounces fresh halibut fillet (with skin on )
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 3/4 to 1 cup mango salsa
- Cut the fillet into 2 to 4 equal pieces, depending upon how many you are serving (or have the fishmonger do it for you at the store).
- Brush both sides of the halibut with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the lemon pepper seasoning heavily on the skinless side. Add additional freshly ground black pepper if you’d like.
- Heat a grill to medium- high (400 degrees F.). Using long tongs and a couple wadded up paper towels dipped (but not dripping) in peanut or canola oil, quickly wipe the grill and discard the paper towels.
- Place the halibut, skinless side down, on the grill and close the lid.
- After 3 or 4 minutes, check on the fish. Use a flat wide spatula and quickly scrape the fish up and turn. You should have nice grill marks and the fish shouldn’t stick. If it seems like it’s sticking, let it cook another minute.
- Cook another 2 or 3 minutes and remove from the grill. For serving, remove the skin and serve grill mark side up.