fish recipes

Thrill of the chill: Poached arctic char with dill sauce tastes like summer in Scandinavia

Oh, wait – it's not summer yet? It's certainly heating up! And when the going gets hot, Scandinavian-style cold poached salmon makes a delicious centerpiece for a dreamy chilled dinner or lunch.

Traditionally, this is done with a whole salmon – and that's fantastic for feeding a crowd. But what if you just want to do a salmon fillet? What if it's just dinner for two? Or what if you go to the fish counter and beautiful arctic char fillets are on sale? 

Grab that fillet and get ready to poach. It's so easy and yield such great results that if you've never done it before, you'll wonder where the technique has been all your life.


Lay the fillet skin-side down in a smallish roasting pan (or a fish poacher, if you happen to have one, which I don't). Cover it with cold water and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. You don't need to add other flavorings to the water, as the both char and salmon have enough lovely flavor on their own; char's flavor is a little more delicate. Bring the water to a simmer, turn off the heat and let the fish sit in the hot water for 25 minutes. Transfer it to a platter and chill it. That's it. Garnish it with slices of lemon and sprigs of dill, if you like. 

You probably don't even need a recipe, but here it is:

A 1 1/4 pound fillet serves two or three; poach two fillets if you want to serve four to six. 

Serve it with a mustardy fresh dill sauce, and asparagus and boiled red potatoes – both are which delicious if they happen to crash into that dill sauce. I nearly forgot: cold cucumber salad's great with it, too!

Here's how to make the cucumber salad: 

And the dill sauce . . . 

And here's the best part. Make the fish and the dill sauce (and cucumber salad, if you're doing that...) in the morning, or the day before. Then you just pull 'em out of the fridge and serve. How's that for chill?



Bouri de Bizerte – roasted branzino – is the centerpiece of a culinary excursion to Tunisia

Our friends Habib Loriot-Bettaieb and Nicola Longford are both wonderful cooks – he's French-Tunisian; she's a Brit. We'd been bugging Habib for ages to cook something Tunisian for us, and last weekend we prevailed: He and Nicola invited us to their townhouse near the Dallas Farmers Market for a night in Tunisia. Cooks Without Borders' second guest cook event!

The centerpiece of the dinner is bouri de Bizerte – "a typical Tunisian dish," says Habib, as he seeds and slices peppers, "perhaps from the northern part, with the French loup de mer." That's the Mediterranean sea bass you may know as branzino. "Bouri is the Tunisian word for it," Habib explains. "It's from the town of Bizerte, where there's a very old harbor. My nanny Zina used to fix stuff like this." 

(Habib is somewhat camera-shy, which is why the visual focus is on the food.)

The dish – simply roasted loup de mer with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions and saffron – is ideal for entertaining, as you can ready everything in advance, then pop the baking dish in the oven and forget about it for 25 minutes. Have a salad or other appetizer ready, and when you're ready for the main course, just transfer the fish and vegetables and the lovely sauce they create to a serving dish.

For the peppers – felfel in Tunisian – Habib uses Anaheims; they're very similar, he says. 

Habib's bouri de Bizerte, almost ready for the oven. Habib later told me he prefers to slice the vegetables differently, a change that's reflected in the (re-tested) recipe.


The dish is easy to assemble. In a baking dish or roasting pan, arrange the fish (whole fishes, heads and tails removed, cut in four) with parboiled Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered onions and Roma tomatoes and the sliced peppers. Add some water infused with a luxurious dose of saffron and some melted butter, a good dollop of olive oil, ground cumin, salt and pepper, toss it all gently to coat the fish and vegetables with the spices and such, then lay lemon slices on top. Then pop it into a 400 degree oven. Want to get started? Here's the recipe:

For a first course, Nicola improvises a salad she learned from Habib's stepmother: sliced oranges with radishes, red onion, cured black olives and mint.

Habib and Thierry are opposed to it. "Anything sweet is dessert," Thierry insists; Habib agrees. Nicola and I feel otherwise: The salty cured olives and perfumey mint are so nice with the oranges, and the salad is refreshing and beautiful.

Are you siding with Nicola and me? Use a small, sharp knife to slice a flat spot on the top and bottom of each orange, then cut down and around the sides to remove the pith before slicing it. 

Here's the recipe:

Happily, Habib has his own Tunisian salad to offer. (The more the merrier!) It's a simple dice of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers. Dried mint adds the Tunisian touch, and naturally a dose of good olive oil is involved. Habib uses English hot-house cukes, which he peels, but when I make the salad a few days later to create the recipe, I use small Persian cucumbers, and leave the peel on for a bit more color and texture; I also add Aleppo pepper. You can use either kind of cuke, and any kind of red pepper. Habib and I both used Roma tomatoes, but when we come into tomato season (soon!) I'll make it again with some great heirlooms. 

Habib's Tunisian salad

Habib's Tunisian salad

Oh, another thing: The salad is just right served solo as a starter, but when I recreate it for recipe development purposes, I find myself facing a big bowl of it just as lunchtime rolled around, so I serve it (to myself!) on romaine leaves. That's really nice too, as you can pick up a romaine leaf and eat it with the salad.

Ding! That must be the bouri de Bizerte – ready to serve. Don't forget plenty of crusty bread – you'll want it to sop up those delicious juices! With its gentle spices, it's wonderful with crisp white wine – French Picpoul de Pinet is Habib's favorite with it – or a light red, like a Côte de Rhône. 

I love this dish because you get the wonderful flavor of the fish roasted on the bone, without having to fillet a whole fish at the table, and the saffron and cumin infuses the potatoes and other vegetables with exotic perfume. You do need to remove the bones from each piece and be careful when you eat it – maybe not the dish to serve when you have your boss over for dinner!

"Everybody makes this dish, all over the Mediterranean," says Habib. A slight exaggeration? Perhaps. It's definitely a winner.

Ten-minute dazzler: This ginger vinaigrette turns simple fish into a modern Asian show-stopper

Red snapper with ginger vinaigrette

I wish I could remember exactly what inspired this dish. I'm pretty sure New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten published a recipe for salmon with ginger vinaigrette somewhere, at some point, maybe in the 1990s – was it in a cookbook? A cooking magazine? I can't find any trace of it, no matter how much I Google. Did I dream it?

In any case, what I loved about the sauce was that it starred lots of julienned ginger – more ginger than you usually see on one plate. I made it once, Thierry and I both fell in love with it, and I made it many times after that, tweaking and changing it over the years. Lime juice, fish sauce and scallions (not in the original) now come into play. It didn't take too long to realize it's spectacular on just about any kind of fish: Not just salmon, but tuna, halibut, snapper, scallops, shrimp – even fish with serious personality, like mackerel. 

Did I mention it's super-easy to make, and fabulously healthy? It's ideal for a light and festive dinner for two, or as the centerpiece of an elegant dinner party. 


The genius of it is the ginger vinaigrette, which comes together in no time flat, but you can even make in advance, which is especially handy if you're entertaining. Just whisk together lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, olive oil and toasted sesame oil, then add sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and julienned ginger. If you're making it more than a few minutes ahead of time, wait till the last minute to add the cilantro.

Seared halibut in ginger vinaigrette

Last weekend I found some gorgeous halibut fillets on sale (it's usually so expensive!). After a couple days of seriously exaggerated eating, I wanted to make something light, lovely and easy for a relaxed dinner at home with Thierry. Halibut sounded luxurious, to boot.

It's really easy to overcook halibut, making it kind of dense and hard. But if you salt and pepper it, sear it in an oven-proof skillet in a little hot olive oil (four minutes skin-side up, two and a half minutes skin-side down), then finish it for three minutes in a 400-degree oven, it comes out absolutely perfect: lightly seared on the outside, silky and wonderful on the inside. Its delicate flavor is gorgeous with the ginger vinaigrette, which you just spoon onto a couple plates while the fish finishes in the oven. Set the fillets on top of the sauce when it comes out. 

We had it with roasted asparagus and radishes, which took on a whole new dimension as it crashed happily into the vinaigrette on the plate. Loved it!


But it doesn't have to be halibut, and it doesn't have to be seared. Grilling season is starting, and just about any kind of grilled fish sings with this, from tuna to snapper to mackerel – or skewered shrimp! Ditto fish done in a pan (scallops, salmon) or roasted in the oven (branzino!). 

Intrigued? Here's the halibut recipe:

Or maybe you want to try it with a different kind of fish. And you know what? I'm thinking it would also be great on grilled or seared chicken breasts. Here's the recipe for just the vinaigrette:

Please let us know you you like it!