Healthy halibut

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

For as long as I can remember, I've thought of halibut as golden chunks of deep-fried fish, a dish designed to satisfy my desire for grease and to act as a transport system for mayonnaise-based sauces.

I'm not alone in this thinking. Halibut has little flavor, and it tends to be on the dry side, especially after several months in the freezer. It fairly begs to be dipped in a sauce.

About 20 years ago, when I took up cooking in earnest, I found other ways to cook halibut. I buried it under mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese, and baked it. I poached bite-size pieces and dipped them in butter -- "Poor Man's Lobster." I made a halibut bisque with butter and heavy cream. I made a chowder, heavy on the butter and cheddar cheese, and pass the bread and butter, please.

Call me a slow learner. A couple of years ago, the light finally came on. After years of eating all that cream, butter, cheese, mayonnaise and cooking oil, I realized it was killing me. I was more than 50 pounds overweight. My blood pressure and "bad" (LDL) cholesterol were past the scary levels. I was just asking for a stroke or heart attack.

I dislike using drugs of any kind, but having seen what a stroke did to my step-mother, I started taking a statin and a beta blocker. Combined with eating less and exercising more, my present numbers are in the ballpark. I've lost more than 40 pounds. I've had to change some habits, but it's worth the effort. I'd like to be around to take my great-grandchildren fishing.

So, when I invited friends to dinner recently, I wanted to serve halibut in a healthier form than in the past. With help from the Internet, I hatched a recipe:

Salsa verde (green sauce)

1 pablano pepper

1 Fresno pepper, minced, seeds and veins removed

1 serrano pepper, minced, seeds and veins removed

1 tomatillo, chopped

cup sweet onion, chopped

1 lime

large navel orange

cup cilantro, chopped

salt to taste

Broil pablano until skin is black and blistered. Wrap in a damp paper towel and allow to steam in a plastic bag for a few minutes. Remove skin and seeds. Put in a blender with juice and zest from lime and orange. Pulse until liquified. Pour into small bowl. Add other ingredients. Keeps in refrigerator for two or three days. Bring to room temperature before using. Serves 4.

I served this sauce with halibut fillets that were lightly sprinkled with blackening spices, seared in a pan with a little olive oil, topped with a 50-50 mixture of pecans and Panko bread crumbs, and baked for 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Alongside mashed garlic sweet potatoes, steamed carrots and zucchini squash, it made an impressive -- and healthy -- dish.

I recommend salsas for anyone wanting to lose weight and lower their LDL cholesterol. Our local stores stock plenty of ingredients, and the Internet has more ideas than you can shake a jalapeo at.

It's fun to experiment with the various fruits and vegetables. The pablano I used as a base is a mild, flavorful pepper. The serrano and Fresno peppers were for heat, the tomatillo and lime juice for tartness and the orange juice for sweetness. If you don't want heat, some peppers, such as Anaheims, have little or none. Most of the heat in peppers is in the white veins, which can be scraped out with the seeds.

My pecan-topped halibut with salsa was not only fun to make, it earned "yums" from my guests. It was so good, we didn't even miss the grease.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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