Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut

Full of fresh, seasonal flavors, this quick crispy pan-seared halibut with tomato basil quinoa makes a healthy, gluten-free, and satisfying meal.

pan-seared halibut with quinoa on a plate

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!

Easy Culinary Science Cookbook by Jessica Gavin

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.

  1. Blot the halibut fillets.
  2. Prepare quinoa. Combine quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan and cook for about 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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!

blotting halibut with paper towel

tomato, garlic, and olives in a skillet on the stove

crispy pan-seared halibut with quinoa on a plate

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pan-seared halibut with quinoa on a plate

Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: serves 2
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Cooking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

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.


Ingredients

  • two 8-ounce halibut filets, 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

Instructions

  1. Blot the halibut filets with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as you can. Set aside.
  2. 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.
  3. Season both sides of the halibut filets 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 filet 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Cover any leftovers and store in the refrigerator for a few days. Reheat as desired.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Olives: Not a fan of olives? You can leave them out or replace with more tomatoes. Chickpeas would be good too!
  4. 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.
  5. Recipe reprinted with permission from Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking by Jessica Gavin

18 Comments

  1. Hello Sally! Any substitute for the red wine vinegar? Thank you!

    1. Hi Siew! I really loved the red wine vinegar in this quinoa, so subbing for it will leave out some flavor. My next suggestion would be apple cider vinegar.

  2. I can’t wait to make this recipe. Coming from a large family and being an empty nester now, it’s always difficult to figure out dinner for 1 or 2! This looks easy and delicious . Can’t wait to try it.

    1. I hope you love it, Margie!

  3. Sally. This halibut dinner is so delicious. I’m devouring it as I’m typing this not

    Thanks again for another great recipe

  4. Jessica Gavin says:

    I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed making this recipe and got to have a date night in with the family 🙂 I loved how you substituted quinoa for couscous, I can’t wait to try it! Sending so much appreciation for sharing my cookbook with your readers. Thank you, Sally!

  5. Made this (minus the fish) for my mom as she said she didn’t like quinoa. She now likes it. So good. Thanks Sally.

  6. Hi Sally! While I have couscous in the cupboard, we are huge quinoa lovers in this home so I used quinoa like you did, minus olives. It is now on regular rotation, I love it so much. Unfortunately, though, I live in Winnipeg in Canada so good fish is hard to come by so I haven’t had the chance to try it with the halibut! The next time me and the hubs travel west, I will have to be sure to make it! Thank you for sharing this recipe from Jessica’s book!

    1. I’m thrilled its a regular recipe in your house! Which type of fish did you use? I’m always looking for ways to change things up 🙂

  7. I just flew back from working in a small town here in Alaska and was browsing for something different to do with halibut that was just caught a few minutes ago (hubby went fishing while I was working). Need to make adjustments and substitutions (sun dried tomatoes and no olives) plus adding veggies but thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Oh my gosh – I bet it was amazing with such a fresh fish!

  8. Made this tonight with edamame in place of olives and it was delicious 🙂 thank you Sally!

  9. We absolutely loved this! It was simple to make and oh so tasty. Definitely adding this one to my permanent recipe collection. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi Sally! How would you recommend going about doubling this recipe? Also, would one pan or two be best?

    1. Hi Becky, You can simply double all of the ingredients. If your pan is big enough you can bake it all in one pan. Enjoy!

  11. Your directions say to hear the oil until it simmers. Did you mean shimmers? I have never seen oil simmer. Also, when I use my Wagner cast iron pan, I usually use avocado oil for it’s high smoke point. Any comments?
    Thanks

    1. Hi David, oil will eventually boil if it’s hot enough, but we don’t want it nearly that hot for this recipe. As soon as it begins to pop and you can feel heat rise above the pan, add the filets.

  12. This recipe is absolutely delicious. I did not have enough quinoa, so I used Orzo instead. It was amazing. I defintely recommend this to everyone!

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