Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa

halibut with quinoa on a plate

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.

I know it seems random, but it’s been awhile since I shared a dinner recipe. Truth is, I’ve been stuck in a cooking funk the past few months. I’ve spent so much time in the kitchen with recipes like croissants, pavlova, babka, and meringue pies that when dinnertime rolls around, I stick to the usuals or we order take-out. It’s like all of my energy and inspiration goes into baking and dinners end up feeling (and tasting) like a lackluster chore.

But this past weekend, in addition to my raspberry almond crumb cake, I cooked a bright new dish that literally fed our souls. Honestly!!!! Dinner finally tasted GOOD again and I’m thrilled to share this tasty experience with you.

overhead image of crispy halibut in a skillet with tomato basil quinoa

This recipe comes from my friend Jessica’s new cookbook, Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking. Jessica Gavin is a certified culinary scientist. She writes a food blog and I’m constantly fascinated with her content. Everything revolves around the science behind the recipe so we can learn the HOWs and WHYs. I’m passionate about this stuff and I know you appreciate it too. With her approachable writing and delicious recipes, Jessica shows us that a recipe isn’t just a recipe. It’s a delicious scientific experiment. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica in California while I was on my book tour and she’s just the sweetest! I’m thrilled to support her and her new cookbook, a treasure I know you’ll find enjoyable and interesting. There’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Perfect for eager cooks and bakers at any level!

Easy Culinary Science Cookbook by Jessica Gavin

Eager to escape my dinnertime funk, I paged through Jessica’s cookbook and instantly felt inspired. Pan-seared halibut with tomato basil couscous immediately caught my eye, so I made it the next night. I had a bag of quinoa that needed to be used up so I decided to make the simple substitution. Besides that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe. And it TOTALLY delivered.

Here’s why we loved it and why you will too:

  • Packed with simple and seasonal flavors
  • Healthy, wholesome
  • Only serves 2, great for date night
  • One pan meal
  • Versatile– I imagine it would be fantastic with any fish
  • Texture– crispy on the outside and buttery tender inside
  • Very easy
  • Very quick

The pan-frying technique is nothing new, but I often struggle with attaining a super CRISP exterior no matter which protein what I’m cooking. Jessica gives us a lot of tips to help ensure that perfect pan-sear. First, she encourages us to blot the halibut before cooking, drying up any excess moisture. Cooking a wet piece of fish causes excess splattering and steam, which delays the browning. I simply wrapped a paper towel around the filets before cooking.

blotting halibut with paper towel

Additionally, always start with a very hot pan and do not move the fish when it’s cooking. I used a cast iron skillet, but any skillet is great as long as it’s hot. Jessica’s cook’s note teaches us that grapeseed or vegetable oil is preferred for pan-searing. She says, “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

  • Blot excess moisture
  • Start with a very hot pan
  • Don’t move the fish
  • Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point

The fish cooks in 8-10 minutes. When it’s done, simply set it aside on a paper-towel lined plate. The paper towel soaks up some excess oil. In the same pan, whip up a bejeweled bed for your crispy halibut. Tomatoes, garlic, and olives deliver big flavor and pair perfectly with fresh basil and lemon. The quinoa is hearty enough to really 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!

tomatoes, garlic, and olives in a glass measuring cup

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

The halibut has this incredible crunchy crust, but the center is so tender and buttery-smooth. What a contrast!

Start to finish, the entire meal took me 25 minutes to cook. Kevin and I have been craving an exciting homemade meal, preferably one that’s QUICK, and this one hit the spot! Thank you for bringing life back to dinnertime, Jessica!

halibut with quinoa in a skillet

halibut with quinoa on a plate

Look at that crisp!!!

You can check out and order Jessica’s cookbook right here. 🙂

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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


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 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


  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.


  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


  1. This looks like a perfect Spring/Summer dinner. Thanks for sharing it!  🙂

    1. It’s absolutely perfect for the upcoming months! I hope you love it 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. Christine Markwart says:

    Love this!!! I work with Jessica and know how amazing she is and cannot wait until her cookbook is released! 🙂 So happy to see 2 of my favorite food bloggers working together.

    1. Thanks so much Christine!

  4. Yum! I am disappointed that I will be out of town this weekend because I want to try this asap! I am in a dinner rut too, so this is much welcomed. And thanks for the new cookbook suggestion too! I love to read the sciency, nerdy cookbooks like novels! Jessica sounds like my kinda gal!

    1. You are so very welcome! I hope this recipe gets you out of your dinnertime rut 🙂

  5. Oh my STARS this looks great! Your photos always make me want to cook EVERY ONE of your recipes Sally. 🙂

    1. So sweet, thank you Renee!!

  6. This dinner looks so healthy & easy for a weeknight meal! I don’t eat nearly as much fish as I should, but once the weather gets a little sunnier, I get a little better about it. The Mediterranean-like flavours of this dish would pair perfectly with a big Greek salad 🙂

    1. Yes, I tend to eat healthier when the seasons change too! Hope you love this!

  7. Thank you for posting a savory recipe!  I’m a long time reader SBA and always have loved your dinner recipes.  Looks delicious!

    1. You are welcome, Mary! I hope love this one!!

  8. Deb Allmeyer says:

    Goodie!  Fresh Halibut is on sale this week and my son is home from college for the weekend!

    1. Enjoy your family time, Deb!! Hope you all love this recipe 🙂

  9. Sally, how much garlic?  It’s not listed in the ingredient list.  Thanks.

    1. Hi Christi! I’m sorry about that. I added it!

      1. Thanks, Sally.  I made this the other night and guessed one clove.  It was delicious and very good the next day left over.  Thanks for the recipe!

  10. 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!

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

    Thanks again for another great recipe

  12. 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!

  13. Hi. Can you freeze this? Just the tomato basil quinoa. Not the fish

    1. Hi Teara! Yes, you can freeze the tomato basil quinoa for up to 3-ish months.

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

  15. 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 🙂

  16. 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!

      1. Debbie White says:

        It was! Gave me some ideas. Thanks!

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

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

  20. 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?

    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.

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