Alaska Seafood: How to Grill Wild-Caught Halibut

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A few weeks before I went to Alaska to go fishing with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) there was an article in the Los Angeles Times by Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence restaurant. It started with an Isak Dinesen quote: The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. Which is one of the few quotes (outside of the lyrics to quite a few show tunes) that actually pops into my head from time to time. It’s a truthful observation that is also a tad romantic. But I was smack up against the deadline of my cookbook and I simply had no time for romance –be it culinary or otherwise. So I set the article aside knowing I’d want to read beyond the quote when I had time to consider the article more carefully.

That bit of free time didn’t come for several weeks. But as I was packing for Alaska considering what duds I might need to protect against the salt water I knew I would encounter, the quote popped back into my head. The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. I was looking for a cure or at least a cleansing. An entire summer of baking Savory Pies can do that to you. So I picked the article back up. The actual paper article.

Though Cimarusti’s story was not quite the romantic tale I had envisioned from the quote, I did find it to be relevent to my life. The main point he was trying to get across was the importance of brining. Many of us dry or wet-brine all sorts of meat. Pork and poultry especially. The technique is easy and it really came into vogue as a way to make bland, dry, grocery store Thanksgiving turkey somewhat palatable. I’m sure you’ve tried it in some form or another yourself. But have you ever considered brining fish?

Brining Alaskan HalibutI hate to be a braggard. But honestly. Yes. I have wet-brined low-fat fish quite often. It certainly is a great way to get fish seasoned all the way through. It also helps keep the fish from drying out when cooked over high or direct heat, as in grilling. But it does something else. It firms the flesh, making it cook up a bit meatier and less likely to fall apart on the grill.

Cimarusti suggests a 5% brine solution. Which works out to be about 1/4 cup easily dissolvable sea salt to about 6 generous cups of very icy water. He further indicates that, “brined and properly cooked, the meat will break off into large, lovely translucent flakes. It will be juicy, seasoned through and through and unlike any halibut you’ve had”. Those words alone should convince you that brining halbut is worth your time and effort.

Like I said. I’d been brining low-fat fish for sometime. But I didn’t really know why. Sometimes we hear about kitchen miracles and we adopt them without really knowing how effective they really are. You know like salting Japanese eggplant to remove it’s bitterness. What bitterness? I have never undertood that little trick. But brining I promise you will bring noticeable results.

I was so pleased with this article that I decided to keep it around. Knowing I would re-visit it after my return from Alaska. In fact it laid on the top of my to-do pile on my desk all the time I was gone. Part of my trip was dedicated to learning about Wild-Caught Alaska Seafood. Learning about halibut was at the top of the learning list for me. I knew that ASMI planned to have two chefs (Dan Enos & Patrick Hoogerhyde) on hand to answer our questions 24/7. I had a lot of questions, but my first question was on brining. Both chefs confirmed it’s a great method. They taught me a few new things about handling all this beautiful seafood from Alaska too. I plan to share these tips soon, as well as some of the original recipes they cooked up for us.

Once I got home I was anxious to try out some of the stuff I learned. So I pulled out the Cimarusti article and decided to make a version of his Grilled Brined Wild Alaskan Halibut with Green Bean & Tomato Salad because buried in that recipe was (yet) another great tip.

“Also, before grilling, brush a super-fine veil of homemade, or if you must, store-bought mayonnaise on both sides of the fish. This will help keep it from sticking to the grill. Do this and your days of scraping fish off the grill are over, I guarantee it.”

Well guess? It works!

Grilled Brined Wild Alaskan Halibut with Green Bean & Tomato Salad serves 6 CLICK here for a printable recipe adapted from Michael Cimarusti

Tomato Salad Grilled Halibut

 

  • 1 T dijon mustard
  • 1/4 c sherry vinegar
  • 1 pn sugar
  • 1 pn each kosher salt & black pepper, to taste
  • 1 small clove garlic, green germ removed, finely minced
  • 1 c extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grill
  • 1/4 c kosher salt
  • 2 c water, plus more for ice bath
  • 4 c ice cubes, plus more for ice bath
  • 3 lb center-cut skinless halibut fillet, blood line removed
  • 1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1 lb various varieties of tomatoes (try for a mix of types, sizes and colors)
  • 1 pn maldon salt, or other coarse sea salt, to taste
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 30 large green basil leaves, cut in ¼-inch ribbons
  • 1/2 bn flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 25 tarragon leaves, snipped with scissors
  • 1/4 c mayonnaise, or as needed
  • 1 light shake of old bay seasoning per fillet, optional

Prepare the vinaigrette. Place the mustard, vinegar, sugar, 1 pinch each salt & pepper and garlic in a mason jar. Place the lid on the jar and give it a good shake. This will dissolve the salt and the sugar. Remove the cap, add the olive oil, replace the cap and shake again. This will yield about 1 1/3 cups of creamy, well-emulsified vinaigrette, more than will be required for the recipe (the remainder can be stored tightly covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 week).

Brine the fish: Combine 1/4 cup kosher salt and 2 cups water in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add 4 cups ice. Set the brine aside while you prepare the fish. Place the fillet in the brine and leave for 1 hour. Remove the fish from the brine, dip briefly in salt-free ice water and dry it thoroughly with paper towels. Lay the fish out flat on parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate, unwrapped, for a minimum of 4 hours. Cut the fillets into 5- to 6-ounce portions.

Make the salad: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Blanch the green beans briefly in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water and cook just until the color brightens, about 3 minutes. Remove to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then drain and pat dry. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a large serving platter. Depending on the shape of the tomatoes, you may want to cut some into wedges and others may look better sliced. Season the tomatoes with Maldon salt and a few turns of freshly milled black pepper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the chopped shallots and distribute half the green and opal basil, parsley and tarragon evenly over the tomatoes. This should be done one-half hour before you are ready to serve your guests.

Grill the halibut: Heat the grill over medium-high heat until hot and clean it well with a wire brush. Brush both sides of the fish with a very thin coating of mayonnaise, a sprinkle with salt, and a light shake of Old Bay Seasoning, if desired. Just before putting the fish on the grill, wipe down the grate with an old rag that has been briefly dipped in cooking oil. Place the fish on the grill and, after a minute or so, turn the fillets at a 45-degree angle to mark them. After another minute, flip the fillets. Cook for 2 more minutes. The flesh should yield to gentle pressure when pressed (you can also use a cake tester to test the doneness of the fillet; when the fish is properly cooked, a cake tester will pass through with only gentle resistance).

Just before the fish is ready, shake the vinaigrette again to re-emulsify, and drizzle one-fourth of it over the tomatoes. Place the cooked and drained green beans in a mixing bowl and toss them with enough vinaigrette to coat them well and season with salt and pepper. Scatter a layer of beans over the tomatoes. Place the grilled halibut on top of the tomatoes and the beans. Drizzle the halibut with more vinaigrette and scatter over the remainder of the dressed beans. Distribute the remaining herbs over it all. Pass the remaining vinaigrette at the table.