Grilled Halibut with Crab Sauce
Halibut is an interesting fish in that it offers both big benefits and big challenges to the creative cook. The benefits are that it's a big flatfish from which thick steaks of beautiful firm white flesh can be cut, with the large backbone and enveloping skin intact and no pesky little bones lacing the flesh. These steaks are tailor-made for the grill or sauté pan, as they easily withstand the rigors of grilling or searing. The challenges of the fish revolve around the fact that even the freshest local-caught halibut is very delicate of flavor, verging on the bland, and therefore a successful preparation must use sauces or relishes which subtly enhance and complement the flavor without overwhelming it.
For years I've been serving grilled halibut with sauces adapted from the one suggested in The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. Their approach is basically a fresh tomato-basil relish, with a little olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic, seasoned to taste. This works especially well in mid- to late summer when the main ingredients are at their best: locally-caught halibut, fresh ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.
This adaptation adds some cooked shallots and celery for a slightly more complex flavor, and some fresh crab to complement and deepen the halibut flavor. It's especially good with a few ears of fresh-picked local corn.
1 lb halibut steak, skin on, about 1-1/4" thick
6 oz fresh crabmeat
2 T shallots, minced
1/4 C celery, minced
3 T parsley, minced
2 T basil or oregano, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon, minced
2 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1 ripe tomato, diced
1/4 C white wine
1 T tomato paste
salt, hot sauce to taste
See Grilling Basics for equipment and procedure.
Sauce: sauté the shallots and celery in the olive oil over medium heat about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the wine and cook for another minute or two to reduce slightly. Off heat, add the herbs, garlic, crabmeat, lemon zest, lemon juice, diced tomato, and tomato paste and mix well. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce.
Cut the fish steaks in half, cutting right through the heavy backbone and leaving it in place. Rinse and pat dry, then spray with vegetable oil and sprinkle with a scant amount of salt. Grill over a medium hot charcoal and hardwood fire, 5 minutes on one side and 4 on the other.
To serve, carefully remove the halibut skin and discard. Spread the sauce on a warm plate and lay the fish over it. Garnish with fresh minced herbs or another dollop of the tomato-crab sauce.