Fresh Pacific halibut is a seasonal splurge. It needs very little to enhance its flavor—in fact, it’s almost a sin to fuss too much with it. I like to prepare it simply: pan-seared until golden and crisp with a quick sauté of sweet, garlicky cherry tomatoes on the side. Depending on how long you cook the tomatoes, they can be firm and fresh or soft and jammy. I usually aim for somewhere right in between, but they’re delicious either way.
Pacific halibut is a firm, dense, and sweet white fish, available fresh from March into November. Avoid frozen halibut, as it tends to be dry. If you don’t have access to fresh halibut, another mild white fish like haddock, mahi mahi, sea bass, tilapia, or cod may be substituted.
Remember, when browning or searing a piece of meat or fish: Get the pan good and hot. If the food doesn’t sizzle when you place it in the oil, take it out and give the pan another minute or two to heat up. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or the temperature will drop and the food will steam instead of sear. Resist the urge to move or flip the food before it has fully seared. It will release more easily—and, if you move it around too much, it won’t develop that lovely brown color and crust.
Once Upon a Chef by Jennifer Segal
1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
2. Season the halibut all over with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12‑in [30.5‑cm] nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Place the fish, presentation-side down, in the pan and cook, without touching, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip the fish and lower the heat to medium; continue cooking until the halibut is just firm to the touch and opaque when you pry open a thicker piece with a paring knife, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked halibut to a plate or serving platter.
4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, followed by the cherry tomato mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices, a few minutes. Stir in the basil, then taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
5. Serve the halibut fillets with the tomatoes spooned over the top and alongside.