Full of fresh, seasonal flavors, this quick crispy pan-seared halibut with tomato basil quinoa makes a healthy, gluten-free, and satisfying meal.
This simple and delicious meal comes from the cookbook, Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking. It’s authored by my friend Jessica Gavin, a certified culinary scientist, who writes a fascinating food blog where she incorporates food science knowledge into each post and provides readers with insights into the HOWs and WHYs of each and every featured recipe.
I was instantly drawn to this particular recipe because I loved the choice of fresh ingredients, the play of simple, seasonal flavors and textures, but most of all, its simplicity.
I pretty much stuck to Jessica’s original recipe. It calls for couscous, but I made a simple substitution and replaced it with quinoa. The tomatoes, garlic, and olives deliver big, robust flavors and fresh basil and lemon add freshness. The quinoa is hearty enough to make this feel like a meal. Honestly, I’m not sure which I loved more: the crispy pan-seared halibut or the tomato basil quinoa!
Tell Me More About Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut
- Texture: This is truly a dish for the senses. Slightly thicker and firmer than other white fish such as cod, the pan-seared halibut has buttery-smooth flesh and an incredible crispy crust. The tasty tomato basil quinoa adds another layer of textural interest.
- Flavor: Delicate halibut has a mild sweetness and gentle flavor that pairs well with boldly flavored accompaniments. Here, nutty quinoa, sweet, tangy tomatoes, briny olives, and fresh herbs make the perfect compliment. This recipe is packed with simple and seasonal flavors, and I imagine it would be fantastic with any fish.
- Ease: With just one pan and a few choice ingredients, this meal is deceptively quick and simple to make. The recipe serves 2, making it a great date night option, but you could easily double up the ingredients to serve a larger group.
- Time: From start to finish, the entire meal was prepared in just 25 minutes. The fish cooks in 8-10 minutes. When it’s done, simply set it aside on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain excess oil. Then, prepare the bejeweled bed of tomato basil quinoa for your crispy halibut.
How to Make Pan-Seared Fish to Perfection
The pan-frying technique is nothing new, but I often struggle with attaining a super CRISP exterior when cooking proteins. Jessica offers a variety of tips to help ensure that perfect sear. Cooking a wet piece of fish causes excess splattering and steam, which delays the browning. Jessica encourages us to blot the halibut before cooking, drying up any excess moisture. I simply wrapped a paper towel around the fillets before cooking.
She also recommends starting with a very hot pan and leaving the fish, untouched, while it’s cooking. I use a cast-iron skillet, but any skillet is great as long as it’s hot. And lastly, she advises using grapeseed or vegetable oil because “these oils have a neutral flavor and high smoke point (above 390°F (199°C)) compared to extra virgin olive oil and are therefore safer to use.”
Guide to Perfectly Pan-Seared Fish
- Blot excess moisture
- Start with a very hot pan
- Don’t move the fish
- Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point
Overview: How to Make Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa
The full printable recipe is below, but let’s walk through it so you understand each step before you get started.
- Blot the halibut fillets.
- Prepare quinoa. Combine quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan and cook for about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- Pan-sear halibut. Preheat a pan over high heat. Season the fillets with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook, untouched, for 5 minutes, and flip. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil.
- Prepare tomato basil quinoa. In the same pan used to cook the fish, combine tomatoes, olives, shallots, garlic, red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the tomatoes release some of the juices and stir in the quinoa and fresh herbs.
- Plate your food. Transfer quinoa to plates, place the cooked fish on top, and finish with a little squeeze of lemon juice and serve with lemon slices.
Thank you for sharing your recipe with us, Jessica!
More Favorite Dinner RecipesPrint
Full of fresh and seasonal flavors, this crispy pan-seared halibut with tomato basil quinoa is a healthy and naturally gluten free meal that’s easy, quick, and satisfies.
- two 8-ounce halibut fillets, about 2 inches thick (anywhere around that size is great)
- 1/2 cup (85g) rinsed uncooked quinoa*
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
- freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
- 1/4 cup (60ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil*
- 2 cups (298g) baby tomatoes, cut in half
- 1/4 cup (50g) pitted kalamata olives, sliced
- 1/4 cup (36g) minced shallots*
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) red wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 Tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
- squeeze of lemon juice + lemon slices for serving
- Blot the halibut fillets with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as you can. Set aside.
- Boil 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the uncooked quinoa and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. The quinoa will cook and soak up all the water in about 10 minutes. Set cooked quinoa aside.
- Season both sides of the halibut fillets with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Once the oil is very hot and begins to simmer, carefully add each fillet to the pan skin-side-up. Be VERY careful as the oil can splatter. Press down on the fish for a few seconds with a spatula to create direct contact with the oil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the halibut, without moving it, until it is golden brown on the bottom edges, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 140°F (60°C), about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer the fish to a paper-towel lined plate to soak up the excess oil. Drain some of the oil from the skillet, saving about 1-2 Tablespoons inside the skillet for the quinoa mixture.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, olives, shallots, garlic, red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (I combined all of this together before adding to the skillet, but adding it all directly to the pan works too!) Stir and cook until the tomatoes begin to release some of their juices, about 4 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa, parsley, and basil. Mix to combine. Place the cooked fish on top, squeeze a little lemon juice over everything, turn off the heat, and serve with lemon slices.
- Cover any leftovers and store in the refrigerator for a few days. Reheat as desired.
- Quinoa: I used quinoa in this recipe, but Jessica’s original recipe calls for the same amount of couscous. Cook it according to box directions and instead of the cooked quinoa, add the cooked couscous to the pan in step 5.
- Oil: Jessica does not suggest using olive oil instead of grapeseed or vegetable oil since its smoke point isn’t as high and therefore isn’t as safe to use.
- Olives: Not a fan of olives? You can leave them out or replace with more tomatoes. Chickpeas would be good too!
- Shallots: I forgot shallots at the store, so I subbed in 2 Tablespoons of green onion. I added the green onion when I stirred in the parsley and basil.
- Recipe reprinted with permission from Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking by Jessica Gavin
Keywords: Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa