By contributing writer Mary Cressler
With grilling season here, folks have eagerly dusted off their grills and started cooking up the usual suspects: burgers, steaks, and dogs. But what about the less usual suspects, like grilled halibut?
As much as my husband could live off ribs, burgers, and steaks, I often crave something different – something lighter like fish and vegetables. But I still want to cook them outdoors on the grill and strive for a flavor that reminds me of what grilling is all about – wood smoke and that rich flavor from the open fire.
I love grilling fish, but one may not suspect that you can attain that added smoke flavor, not to mention that some people are intimidated by how delicate fish can be when cooking. Add a cedar plank to give it a bit of a smoked character and eliminate the complexity of trying to flip a delicate piece of fish at the same time – it’s the perfect combination.
For friends who say they want to give their foods a little smoky touch but don’t want to rush out and buy a smoker, I often recommend starting with something like the plank technique. It’s a great way to get smoked flavor with a gas or charcoal grill.
Most of the time you see a cedar plank recipe, however, you see it with salmon. And while salmon is delicious cooked on a cedar plank, other fish work just as well, especially white fish like halibut, tilapia, cod, or mahi mahi.
Think you can only pair white fish with white wine?
I love dispelling wine myths. It’s a very easy answer to say white wine with white fish, but what if you’re craving red wine? In most cases it is true, red wine can easily overpower a delicately flavored fish like halibut. But, in this case, we added several elements to the entire meal that make it an excellent candidate for both red and white wine. Not only is the halibut getting a bit of a smoky flavor from the cedar plank, but we serve it atop a hearty smoky sausage and lentil salad. The combination of these flavors and textures can now go both ways when it comes to wine.
- 1 pound halibut
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ½ Tablespoon smoked salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cedar plank
- ½ pound sausage (we used chorizo for its smoky flavor and spice)
- 2 cups lentils
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 small tomato, diced
- ½ Tablespoon jalapeno, diced
- ¼ cup shallot, diced
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- ¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Soak the cedar plank for 30-60 minutes in water (make sure it’s completely submerged).
- Preheat grill to medium high heat. For charcoal grill set for indirect cooking.
- Season the halibut with olive oil, smoked salt, and freshly cracked pepper.
- Place halibut centered on the cedar plank, skin side down.
- Place plank on the indirect side of the grill and cover (on direct heat you run the risk of catching the plank on fire).
- Cook for approximately 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish (using a knife, separate the fish to look for an interior that is white all the way through and moist). Note the fish will continue to cook on the heated plank, so I like to remove it from the grill slightly early, when the opaque nature of the fish turns white and there is slight browning characteristic to the exterior of the fish.
- Cut into 4-6 individual pieces and serve atop the lentil salad.
- In a large pot, add 4-5 cups of water or stock, quartered onion, and rosemary sprig and bring to a boil
- Add lentils and reduce to a simmer for approximately 25 minutes or desired consistency. For a salad, we like them slightly al dente. Strain the lentils and discard the onion and rosemary sprig.
- Remove sausage from casings and cook through (can use stove top, grill, or smoker), or cook in casings to 165 degrees and finely dice when done.
- Finely dice tomato, jalapeno, shallot and cilantro.
- Combine all ingredients (including lentils and sausage) in a large bowl and stir.
- Salt to taste.
As mentioned above, there are a few things to consider when pairing this dish with wine. While halibut (as well as other white fish) is rather delicate, you want to look for other factors besides just the main protein – like flavor, sides, and sauces. The way we prepared it and served it atop that smoky lentil salad opens it up to red wine options. The delicate fish has taken on a slight smoky flavor, and the salad is hearty, with herbs and smoky spicy sausage. Light to medium-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir are excellent for this. They have just enough weight and flavor to stand up to the lentil salad but won’t overpower the light fish. Everything stays in balance.
For red, I went with the Sokol Blosser 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($38, media sample) from Oregon. The wine had some great spice notes and rich black cherry flavors. It was medium-bodied with just a touch of earthy tones and more berry fruit and pepper flavors throughout. It really shined with the dish and held up equally well to the smoky sausage flavors as it did with the fish. Look for this or other Oregon Pinot Noirs for the dish.
What about white wine?
For a white wine, I enjoy a fuller bodied wine like an oaked Chardonnay. This is a great meal to compliment those rich flavors found in an oaked Chardonnay, and the wine has enough weight and spice characteristics to stand up to the dish. Some good examples that can be found in the Wine4.Me app include:
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay
- St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay
- Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay
Have you ever paired red wine with white fish? We’d love to hear your pairing!
We hope you enjoy our wine pairing choices. If you want to know which wines YOU will like best, download the FREE iPhone app Wine4.Me. Tell it what wines you know you like and get your own personalized rankings of best-selling, widely available wines in the US.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.