Your choice of fish simmers to tender perfection for a super speedy meal that’s bursting with flavor. The easy sauce can be customized in a surprisingly simple way, making this meal a favorite with adults and kids alike.
A reader recently mentioned that he’d like to incorporate more fish into his weeknight repertoire but lacks creative, family friendly ways to prepare it.
Ryan, this one is for you!
Of course, it’s meant for everyone who’d appreciate a quick-cooking, flavor-packed, protein-rich meal that truly satisfies.
As an added bonus, the recipe cooks in a single pan.
My family adores this dinner, and I have fun varying the flavor profile from time to time through the use of a simple, store-bought condiment.
Your go-to tomato salsa will work beautifully in this recipe, although I appreciate how well tomato salsas with fruity additions play with the fish.
A family favorite is a mango habanero tomato-based salsa made by Mrs. Renfro’s. The jar is labeled as medium-hot, although it strikes me as closer to medium for those who wish to try but prefer something not too spicy.
Recently, I used a tequila-lime salsa and, instead of adding the tablespoon of lime juice as I usually do, I used red wine vinegar to balance the flavors. We loved it.
So, feel free to experiment with various salsas and the lime juice or red wine vinegar. (The hint of acid noted in the recipe ramps up the flavor, and so far, those are my two favorites.) The dish may change somewhat from time to time, but it’s always well received－at least in our house!－and you may surprise yourself with something new and exciting.
In the fish department, halibut is a personal favorite for its tender yet meaty appeal. Increasing demand has made the popular fish more expensive than many other white fish varieties, so I do consider it a bit of a treat.
Happily, other white fish work well, too, and I’ve mentioned several within the recipe. All of them cook quickly, which adds to the practical appeal of the dish.
I haven’t tried this recipe with shrimp, but I think it would be delightful. A chicken variation would likely be lovely, too. I would simply cook the chicken until nearly done in the first step.
And though leftover fish doesn’t always have the best reputation, these leftovers truly taste great. Covered well, they will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator, and the fish will become more tender and flavorful as it sits in the sauce.
I often break up the remaining fish and serve the fish/salsa mixture over cooked rice topped with chopped avocado and a few crumbled tortilla chips. You can also add fresh greens, black beans, corn, or even some roasted broccoli or asparagus.
Think of it as an ocean-inspired variation of Chipotle’s popular bowls!
So, let’s cook!
Start by patting the fish dry with paper towels (this will help reduce splatters when cooking) and then sprinkle the top of the fillets evenly with the cumin, salt and pepper. The spice mixture is simple but enough to heighten the flavor. I’ve also added a ½ teaspoon of dried oregano along with the salsa for an added layer of flavor. It was meant to be part of the original recipe, but I’ve forgotten on occasion and the results are still delicious!
It’s fun to mix up the flavor profile of this recipe with different salsas. The pineapple tomato salsa is next on my list, and the others are some old favorites along with a mango habanero variety (not pictured) by Mrs. Renfro.
Any firm-fleshed white fish, like sea bass, tilapia, or skinless cod fillets may be used in this recipe. A more delicate fish like flounder would work and taste great but would tend to break apart more easily. A 12-inch skillet is needed to accommodate the fish, although you may cut the recipe in half and cook it in a 10-inch skillet.
After a quick minute on each side, the fish is transferred to a plate. It need not be cooked through at this point, but it will be well on its way.
After the garlic and lime juice are added, it’s time to stir in the salsa and bring the mixture to a simmer.
When the sauce simmers, return the fillets and any accumulated juices to the pan. Then continue to simmer, uncovered, until the fish is opaque and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.
A sprinkle of herbs is nice but not required. Rice or a grain of choice will soak up the flavorful sauce. I often round out the meal with a salad or green vegetable, like Harissa Roasted Green Beans. Corn, black beans, peppers, and avocado complement nicely, too.
If fish isn’t on your regular dinner rotation, this meal might just put it there!
Salsa Simmered Halibut (or other white fish)
Yield:4 servings (recipe easy to cut in half; in that case cook in a 10-inch skillet)
Feel free to use your favorite white fish in this quick-cooking, one-pan recipe that is delightful served over rice. You can also mix up the flavor profile by using flavored salsas like tequila lime or mango habanero and trying both the lime juice as well as the vinegar option over time.
4 (about ¾-inch thick) halibut fillets (~6 ounces each; see notes for substitutions*)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided use
2 cloves garlic, minced (I’ve omitted when in a hurry)
16 ounces (2 cups) tomato salsa**
1 tablespoon (15ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (may substitute red wine vinegar)
Optional: a cup or so of black beans, rinsed and drained; corn would likely complement nicely, too
Serving options: cooked rice; 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or a somewhat lighter sprinkle of chopped fresh oregano
Pat the fish dry with paper towels, and then sprinkle the top of the fillets evenly with the cumin, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch, nonstick frying pan or seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. When the skillet is hot, add the fish, top side down, and sear undisturbed for 1 minute. Carefully flip with a flat spatula and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer the fish to a plate and set aside (the fish will not be fully cooked at this point).
Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil to the pan, followed by the garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add the lime juice and use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the salsa and bring to a simmer. Add the black beans (or corn) now, if using.
Return the fillets and any accumulated juices to the pan. Simmer, uncovered, until the fish is opaque and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. (Tip: fish cooks quickly; this won’t take long.) Remove from the heat.
If using rice, place in 4 shallow bowls. Place a piece of fish in each bowl and spoon the salsa around it. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs, if using, and serve immediately.
*Fish substitutions: Any firm-fleshed white fish, like sea bass, tilapia, or skinless cod fillets may be used in this recipe. A more delicate fish like flounder works and tastes great but will tend to break apart more easily.
**Feel free to choose your favorite salsa. In addition to the traditional variety, we enjoy some of the tomato-based salsas that include fruit, because they complement the fish and the hint of lime so well. Mrs. Renfro’s mango habanero is a go-to. I recently used a tequila lime tomato salsa with the red wine vinegar substitute, which was delightful. And I just purchased Paul Newman’s tomato salsa with pineapple that I’m excited to try.
**Note that some black bean and corn salsas may not be saucy enough for this recipe. I’d sooner stick with a tomato-based salsa and add some corn and black beans.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and they make a great bowl-type meal. I often break up the fish and serve the saucy mixture over rice, sometimes including black beans, fresh greens, and/or corn, and then top with chopped avocado and a few crumbled tortilla chips.