My dad is one of the wisest people I know. His restaurant advice has always been, “If you can’t see the ocean, don’t order the fish.” And I’d have to agree. Fresh, local fish is usually the best call, especially in a restaurant. The only problem for Montanans who are fond of fish is there’s no spying the ocean from anywhere in this landlocked state of ours.
Not to worry, though, and no reason to shy away from buying fish in our grocery stores, as long as you have a plan and shop smart. My favorite fish counter here is at Albertsons on 10th Avenue South. The best bet, I think, is to buy the flashfrozen fish and thaw it in the refrigerator, pat it dry with paper towels and treat it like it’s fresh. Unless, of course, you can buy fresh that’s actually fresh. More on that later.
Flash-frozen typically means the fish is frozen under extremely cold temperatures shortly after being caught, often in flash-freezing units on the boat. This preserves nutrients and flavor. I have had great luck with individually packaged flash-frozen sea bass fillets. Flashfrozen and vacuum-sealed, these 6ounce fillets thaw beautifully in the refrigerator.
Of course, fresh is best, as long as it’s actually fresh. “Fresh” in the fish world just means it has never been frozen. So, that fresh salmon fillet you’re eyeing under the glass might have been sitting under refrigeration for days while the flash-frozen sea bass fillet was frozen shortly after being caught and has been safely sealed ever since. If in doubt, ask. I always say, if you never ask, you’ll never know, and chances are the fishmonger behind the counter has a better idea of whether the best choice on the particular fish is to buy fresh or frozen, especially since we’re here in Montana.
The afternoon I stopped in at Albertsons with halibut on my list, I ran into a friend in the produce department who said they had fresh halibut at the seafood counter. What luck! The fish seller told me the season for fresh halibut is very short, and he advised against ever buying frozen halibut, so I quickly purchased my fresh halibut fillet and happily hurried home to cook it for dinner that night. Nutritionally speaking, fish and shellfish provide high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Almond-Crusted Halibut on Wilted Red Chard
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch red chard, washed, dried, cut in 3-inch pieces
Juice of one lemon
Fleur de sel or kosher salt
4 fresh halibut fillets (3-4 ounces each)
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup panko crumbs (Asian foods aisle)
2 tbsp. water
¼ cup butter
Wilted Red Chard
Heat olive oil in medium saute pan over medium high heat. Saute chard until wilted and tender. Add lemon juice and sprinkle with salt. Set aside until ready to plate.
Rinse halibut fillets under cold water and pat dry.
Beat eggs and water with a whisk and put in shallow dish. Finely chop almonds or grind them in processor. Combine almonds and panko in shallow dish.
Dip fillets in egg wash, then in almond-panko breading to coat both sides. Heat butter in medium saute pan over medium heat until hot.
Cook halibut fillets three minutes, then turn and cook other side an additional three minutes until fish is opaque and cooked through. Do not overcook.
To plate: Arrange wilted chard in center of plates. Top with Almond-crusted Halibut Fillets. Sprinkle with Fleur de sel or kosher salt. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves four.
Hoisin-Glazed Sea Bass on Asian Sesame Slaw with Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas
This sea bass recipe is one of my all-time favorite entrees to make for spring and summer entertaining. It’s much easier than it looks at first glance on paper, and it’s guaranteed to please.
For the Asian Sesame Slaw
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. real mayonnaise
5 ounces angel hair cabbage mix (finely shredded cabbage)
½ cup grated radish
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (Asian foods aisle) For the sea bass:
4 sea bass individual portions (6-ounce), thawed and patted dry
4 tbsp. butter, cut in 1 tablespoon pats
8-ounce jar hoisin sauce (Asian foods aisle), divided
¼ cup green onions, sliced thinly For the stir-fryed snow peas:
2 6-ounce packages gourmet snap peas
2 tbsp. sesame oil
Dash of salt
Make the slaw. Combine sugar, vinegar, sesame oil and mayonnaise in medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add cabbage, grated radish and sesame seeds to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Prepare the hoisin-glazed sea bass.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat (about 400 °).
Lay three sheets of aluminum foil on top of each other to cover large cutting board. Place the fillets in the center of the foil, leaving space in between. Fold all four sides of the foil into the center making a frame around the fillets, then bend sides up to make a tray.
Spoon four tablespoons hoisin sauce into small bowl. Using pastry brush, paint one tablespoon hoisin sauce over the top of each fillet. Put remaining hoisin sauce from jar in plastic baggie to garnish plates. Seal baggie.
Top each fillet with a pat of butter. Place foil tray with prepared fillets on preheated grill and grill for six to seven minutes. The butter will melt and brown the edges of the fish. Do not overcook. The fish will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the heat. Remove from grill. Tent with foil and let rest.
Prepare the stir-fried sugar snap peas.
Fill a medium saucepan 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil. Add peapods, reduce heat and simmer for four minutes. Drain in colander and cover with ice cubes to stop cooking and set color.
Heat sesame oil in stir fry pan over medium high heat.
Stir fry blanched snap peas briefly. Season with salt.
To plate: Mound about ½ cup Asian Sesame Slaw in the center of each dinner plate. Set grilled sea bass fillet atop Asian Sesame Slaw. Sprinkle with sliced green onions. Arrange Stir-fried Sugar Snap Peas attractively around plate. Snip one corner of the baggie filled with reserved hoisin sauce and decorate rim of dinner plates. Makes four servings.