Good Fish

How do you feel about fish?

We’re big fish eaters around here, particularly in this season supposedly called summer. (64 degrees today. Well, at least there was some sun.) Halibut and salmon are back in season. The grill on our front porch has a full tank of propane. In this time of light until 10 pm, we feel like eating lighter than in those dreary months of sunset at 3 and another braised pork shoulder in the oven.


However, is anyone else out there confused about the kind of fish you should be eating? First we started hearing about mercury in fish. (I’m afraid to eat a can of tuna anymore.) And now, with clear urgency, we’re beginning to talk about the sustainability of seafood.

The oceans? They’re not in the best shape right now. Neither are the rivers and lakes.

“The world of seafood is much more complicated now than it was when I pulled my first Jersey sunfish out of the lake; shortsighted economic gain; a morass of bureaucracy; and a universe of misinformation complicate it. It’s clear that we have an insatiable appetite for far more than the oceans, rivers, and lakes can provide. Guilt and food are a terrible combination, certain to give you indigestion, or as my friend says, ‘Guilt makes for bad gravy.’ Denial or ignorance about the consequences of our food choices is far too widespread. Most insidious is the attitude that we might as well indulge in all types of fish while they are still around (because who knows when they might disappear).”

That’s the voice of our friend, Becky Selengut, from the introduction for her fabulous, must-buy cookbook, Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast.

Becky is a talented personal chef, an illustrious wit, the former fish girl at The Herbfarm, mean Scrabble player, shocking Twitter persona, one-hell-of-a-writer, and a friend we never see often enough over here. I’m lucky enough to have met her back in 2006, just a few weeks before I met Danny. Our first time together we ate at a Vietnamese restaurant with two other soon-to-be friends, drove around Seattle laughing at lewd jokes, stopped at Sur la Table to buy some kitchen supplies, and parted company six hours from the time we met, determined to see more of each other. It kind of felt like a date without the sexual tension. I have not tired of Becky yet. She teaches me every time I see her. She’s focused, compassionate, irreverent, and a damned fine person.

She’s also one heck of a chef.

What she has done in this cookbook, Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast, is brilliant. Instead of sending you mopey messages about the fish you should NOT be eating, she celebrates the fish we can eat. (Hm, this approach sounds familiar.) Her focus is on fish from the Pacific Coast, which means those of us who live here in Pacifica, have the chance to cook every single dish in this book. However, more and more, it seems, there is good sustainable fish from the Pacific, available across the country in the freezer section. Plus, there are different sustainable fish in other parts of the country, fish we can’t get here.

(Take a look at these regional guides from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to find the best seafood in your area.)

What can we eat here? What fish does Becky celebrate in her book? Wild salmon, Alaskan halibut, black cod, rainbow trout, albacore tuna, arctic char. Little fish, like sardines, squid, and sustainable caviar. (There’s a phrase you may not have expected to hear.) And for shellfish? Clams, mussels, oysters, Dungeness crab, shrimp, and scallops. No one is going hungry eating sustainable fish.

Danny and I both love the way Becky’s book is laid out. For each kind of fish or shellfish, she has two basic recipes (help! I don’t know how to cook fish!), two intermediate recipes (I know my way around the kitchen but I still have a lot to learn) and one advanced recipe (Danny and other chefs). This means you can work your way through the book with all the easy recipes, feel comfortable enough to circle back and make all the intermediate recipes, and when you are feeling like a master, make the chef recipes.

This means you can eat tamarind and ginger clams, mussels with apple cider and thyme glaze, oyster and artichoke soup, chilled cucumber-coconut soup with dungeness crab, oregon pink shrimp salad with mint, scallop crudo, wild salmon chowder with fire-roasted tomatoes, halibut tacos with tequila-lime marinade and red cabbage slaw, sake-steamed black cod with ginger and sesame, and pan-fried char with crispy mustard crust.

Okay, I’m hungry. Surely you must be hungry too.

The photographs by Clare Barboza not only entice you to cook but put you in the Pacific Northwest, hanging out at the end of the dock, waiting for your fishing line to tug a bit. The cookbook also has wine pairings for every single dish from April Pogue, who is Becky’s talented partner.

Do you need more reasons to buy this book?

We’ll share this. We tested some of the recipes in this book and we were both blown away. Not only was each meal delicious, but also both of us learned something from each dish. We’ve cooked a few more after the book landed in our hands, thanks to the publishers, and we continue to learn. This book will ALWAYS be in our kitchen.

We think it should be in yours too.

Tell us about fish in your life. After all, as I recently heard chef Barton Seaver say, eating seafood is the only way most of us have a relationship with the oceans. Where do you live? What do you eat? Do you eat fish in season? Always frozen? What is your favorite way to eat seafood? We’d love to know.


HALIBUT COCONUT CURRY WITH CHARRED CHILES AND LIME, reprinted by permission of Becky Selengut from Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast

If you have glanced at this recipe and have already decided not to make it because the ingredients list looks too long? Stop. Go back again.

Danny and I believe in the goodness of simple recipes with few ingredients when the moment calls for that. However, if you are going to experience the spine-tingling layers of spices and heat in a good homemade green curry, you’re going to need more than 4 ingredients. If you read the instructions, you’ll find that most of those ingredients are thrown into a food processor and whirled up. Take the time. You don’t want to miss this recipe.

The most time-consuming part of this recipe might be going to the Asian foods store, to pick up galangal or fresh turmeric. (Becky has also offered substitutions in case you are not near an Asian foods store in your town.) Those of you who are gluten-free? Be sure to find a fish sauce without wheat. They are out there. You just have to look. And those of you who have to avoid the gums? Note that many coconut milks contain guar gum. Why? I think it’s because the companies skim off the thick “butter” that sits on top to sell it for other purposes and thickens the thinner milk with guar gum. Those aren’t the best coconut milks anyway.

As Becky writes of this dish: “…perhaps it starts with the color: bright green curry set off against the vivid red onion and charred chile garnish, with little bits of lime. Or perhaps it’s the texture: silky coconut milk meeting tender, yielding halibut contrasted with tiny, crunchy sesame seeds and the slight pull of jalapeno.” After reading that, and seeing that photograph above, if you don’t want to make this dish? I can’t help you. For the rest of you? Dig in.

For the halibut curry
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed from 1 (or both, if you want less heat)
2 stalks lemongrass, woody top half discarded, chopped
½ cup roughly chopped shallots
¼ cup cilantro stems
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh galangal (or ginger, if you can’t get galangal)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground in a spice grinder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground in a spice grinder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried turmeric (or 1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric)
5 Kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 2 limes)
chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce (Thai Kitchen fish sauce is gluten-free, as are others)
½ pound halibut fillet, skinned and cut into 1-inch cubes
sesame seeds, for garnish

For the topping
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 Fresno chiles, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 limes, peeled and flesh cut into small dice

Add the jalapenos, lemongrass, shallots, cilantro, garlic, galangal, coriander, cumin, salt, turmeric, and 1 of the Kaffir lime leaves to the bowl of a food processor and blend, using up to ¼ cup of chicken stock to help the mixture process into a smooth puree. You’ll have to scrape down the sides of the food processor once or twice. Blend well for at least 3 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil. Add the curry you processed and fry it up for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, and the remaining Kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the halibut and turn the heat off. Let the residual heat gently cook the fish. After 5 minutes, it will be ready to serve. Garnish with the sesame seeds.

To prepare the topping, heat the vegetable oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Fry the chiles and onion until they are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and lime. Season to taste with salt. Serve a spoonful of the topping on top of each person’s curry.


40 comments on “Good Fish

  1. Marijana

    Hi Shauna

    I will try this for sure. How I feel about fish? What comes to my mind is taste of fresh grilled sardines brushed with rosemary and olive oil, back when I was 17 in my haven of Murter island in Croatia. I’ve been living here for almost 20 years now and I’ve never tasted fish like that again. I work as a food adviser for Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown DC and we have some great fish, but I’m always wondering where it came from and most of all, how old is fish we buy in stores?
    always wondering where it came from and most of all how old is fish we buy in stores?

  2. heda

    Beginning to think that fishing is like what big game hunting to be. I keep hoping I’m wrong that there really is a sustainable way to harvest enough of these living creatures to satisfy our rapidly growing human population.

  3. Coco aka Opera Girl

    I find myself eating a lot of canned sardines these days — a general rule (besides always consulting the Monterey Bay Aquarium list — what a helpful resource) is that the smaller the fish is, the more likely it is to be a safe bet. Not to mention oily fish are very good for you. Hot-smoked wild salmon is also high on my list, especially Taku Wild, as they are a wonderful example of a sustainable company with admirable business practices and an environmental conscience.

    As fresh fish goes, halibut is a wonderful foil for lots of different flavors. My favorite way to make it is with a miso-sesame glaze, simply baked in the oven. That curry looks lovely — I will have to try it out!

  4. Michelle

    Growing up in Bellingham, WA I ate a lot of seafood growing up. I still do, fish is my meat of choice, my father makes the best grilled salmon I have ever came across. When I met my husband, a Texan, he steered clear of fish. To him seafood came frozen, canned or who knows how. When he moved to the PNW with me, had the fresh abundant fish that comes with the area, he soon was converted.

  5. Lisa Reynolds

    We live in south Ga, about 80 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico and we *love* fresh seafood! We are fortunate that our 14 yo celiac is an avid fisherman, and we enjoy the fruits of his labor constantly. Grouper, Red and Black Drum, Spanish Mackerel, and Sea Trout are just some of our favorites around here. How do we cook them? Usually broiled with butter and garlic, fresh lemon juice juice squeezed on just before we pop them in the oven. Sometimes, we sprinkle on Greek seasonings as an added bonus. My parents still fry fish, as is typical in the south, but I am trying to stay away from that method. We enjoy the delicate flakiness of broiling over frying.

  6. Sheila Z

    I don’t like fish. Well that’s not really true. When I’ve had really fresh fish I’ve loved it. Where I live (not near an ocean) it is all shipped and just tastes off, it’s fishy, mushy, nasty stuff. When I was a kid and went fishing with my Dad we ate fish the same day we caught it and they were really, really good!. Blue Gill, perch, trout, bullhead, bass, perch, pickerel, walleye, and even eel. A few times we even went netting for smelt, they were so good! Then farms got sold off, subdivided and new houses and trailer lots sprung up. Every year it became harder to find a lake, pond or stream to have access to fish in. There were stories in the news about the fish carrying contaminants and fishing just kind of died along with my Dad. Fish from the store just tastes halfway to rotten compared to what we used to catch.

  7. Heather Irvine

    My husband will love you for this recipe! I do not care for fish so I never learned how to cook it. Then I married a man who LOVES all seafood. I am slowly learning to like it as well (ok, only sort of). Recipes like this inspire me to keep trying.

  8. Living With Fibromyalgia

    That looks soooo good. I will have to try making it. I just LOVE salmon. I didn’t even like it at all though before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It’s like my taste buds have changed!

  9. amy

    This sounds great but I am confused… after reading the recipe and seeing the pic, they seem incongruous. The curry is mixed with the coconut milk not placed on top of it, correct? What am I misreading/misinterpreting? I want to make this, very soon, but need some guidance…

    1. shauna

      The curry is mixed with the coconut milk in the photo too. You add the coconut milk with the other ingredients to the curry. Simmer the halibut in that. Put it on top of quinoa or rice.

  10. jeanelane

    First a question – Where do you find lemongrass? I never heard of it until a couple of days ago in a magazine. Is it in the fresh food aisle?

    30 years ago, I used to cook stuffed ‘flounder’. I usually used halibut since flounder rarely made it to the supermarket, but the flounder recipe 🙂 I am not very fond of fish. I hate hate hate the little bones you usually get in lake perch, which is my favorite fish – breaded of course. So I don’t eat breaded fish anymore. And besides, the best restaurant for lake perch is long gone.

    Your blog entry is actually making me think of buying this book and trying something new. Hubby likes fish, but prefers deep fried. He will just have to deal with my experiments!

    1. shauna

      Lemongrass is heavenly! It would be in the produce section of your grocery store, if they carry it. If not, then an Asian food store.

  11. Rachel Grundy

    THANK YOU for the link to those Seafood Guides by Monterey Bay. I have major guilt/anxiety whenever I want to buy fish as I get overwhelmed with what is ok to buy and what I should avoid. I adore fish and seafood but care very much about maintaining our precious oceans. If that means I forgo yellowfin sushi, so be it.

    Thanks Shauna!

  12. Missy D'Haene

    I am sooo excited about this book! I’m a life long seafood lover, grew up around fishermen. Sadly in the last decade or so my fishermen family have grown old and stopped fishing. But it’s a part of life. Since I’ve lost my connection with active fishermen (hopefully my brother will fully embrace it as a hobby!), I’ve fallen away from fresh fish and have often just gone to Trader Joe’s for their frozen wild Alaskan salmon or cod. While it’s still tasty, it’s not the same. Since moving to Bellingham, I’ve added yet another goal to my life, to find the local fishermen and eat seafood in season again! It’s a slow process, but I’ve got my shrimp fishermen connection now! Basically, I’m freaking out over this book!
    Thanks for sharing it with us Shawna!

  13. Karen Rosenzweig

    So happy to see all the glowing reviews of this book – isn’t it fantastic!? I’m having a great time cooking through the book too and love all the comments here so far – thanks!

  14. Sarah

    Love fish. LOVE. My kids love fish, too. One year old will even eat sardines, much to my dismay when I want a kiss later… Thank you for this book rec. I can’t wait to check it out.

  15. elizabeyta

    I grew up with eating salmon. It is still my favorite fish. As well as squaw candy is one of my favorite snacks. I am not big on fish that is dressed up. Grilled, with a little salt, pepper, olive oil or butter and I am good. Do not over grill. I like to eat it fresh and in season whenever possible. Most other fish does not appeal unless it is fixed in a way that really brings out that fishes appeal. I am picky.

  16. cindy

    we lived in california when i was a kid. i grew up eating the salmon and halibut my grandfather would catch on his annual trips to victoria, bc. what wasn’t frozen was smoked or canned…it was so amazing. pacific salmon is still my favorite fish…i won’t eat the farmed stuff, it’s just not the same thing. my mom would always make fish and shrimp with this lemoncello butter sauce that she learned to make as a restaurant cook. it too, was amazing.

    the halibut curry looks amazing and has me craving that halibut from my childhood!

  17. InTolerantChef

    We are so blessed in Australia to have the BEST seafood- after all, we are an island! I used to work in a seafood cafe, and the variety of sustainable fish is astounding. I agree that we should be educated on what we CAN eat, not what we can’t as it can be confusing and put some people off.
    What a lovely recipe too, I have lemongrass and a kaffir lime tree in my garden, so I’m halfway there already, yumm….

  18. Pétra (Creative Mom)

    I was thinking I really don’t need anymore cookbooks but then I saw the Halibut Coconut Curry it looks amazing! I live in Portland so we are getting all the same wonderful seafood you are and I have to admit we are in a bit of a rut with what we do with it, I guess I’m buying a new cookbook : )

  19. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Shauna, perhaps you’d be good enough to send Becky to the East Coast to write the analagous book for us Yankees. We spend a lot of the summer trying to make a very small dent in the (sustainable) fisheries in our part of the world – striped bass, bluefish, scup, sea bass – and have found that fresh new fish recipes are particularly important when you have pounds and pounds of the stuff on hand. Meanwhile, though, I’ll try striper as a stand-in for halibut in this recipe.

  20. Becky

    Hi Tamar: Since I grew up on the East Coast (go Yankees!) I can’t help but respond to your comment. I bet the recipes in Good Fish would translate well to sustainable species on the east coast – sub bluefish for the sardine recipes, sub porgy/scup for the trout or char recipes, sub stripers for the albacore/halibut recipes, as you suggested. And, if you have a moment, drop a comment on to let me know how it came out with the substitution. Best, Becky

  21. Julia Sarver @ Glow Health Coaching

    This looks scrumptious! I definitely need to make this. And I agree with you about starting from the fresh ingredients instead of using a curry paste – it looks daunting, but it’s not that hard once you get started. The first time I made fresh curry paste was during a cooking class in Thailand, and ever since then I can’t be bothered with the jarred variety. If you’re nervous about trying to make the paste, I encourage you to give it a shot. It’s so worth it!

    I, too, rely on the Monterey Bay Aquarium for advice on which fish to buy. I feel so lucky to be in the PNW – we have such great fish available to us here!

  22. Heather Jacobsen

    I love fish and I eat it several times a week! I choose small fish for my lunches, such as sardines and herring, they are packed with important nutrients, and very low in mercury. And then I usually do one other kind of fish dish for dinner during the week.

    In fact, I was planning to make fish for dinner tonight. I have some Wild Alaskan Cod from Whole Foods and I was wondering what to do with it. I just so happen to have almost all the other ingredients in your recipe. So… Voila! I can’t wait to make it. Green curries are my favorite. I would hope the Cod makes a decent substitute for the halibut.

    BTW, I used to live in a climate where I could actually grow lemongrass, ginger/galangal and turmeric (S. Florida). I could probably grow it here in Houston, too, at least during the summer as annuals. So now that my kids are old enough to help me with the garden, I think I will grow them again! Thanks for the inspiration! If I’m successful, I’ll send you some of my harvest. 🙂

  23. MelanieB

    Just Divine!

    It came together so quickly. I served mine over quinoa. Only change was the fish. Its 21$/p right now 🙁 So I used shrimp and sea scallops (8$/p) and that was the only change.

    I had never attempted this style of curry before and I will be making it often, so simple and such a flavourful punch for very little effort on my part. (Side note, Kaffir leaves and Lemongrass both freeze well, and then you always have them on hand for recipes that use just a bit)

    Thanks again for posting it.

  24. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Being a pescatarian, we only eat two types of dishes in our house… vegetarian or fish. We joined a CSF (a fish share) last year and have continued to enjoy the extreme freshness of their bounty.

  25. KCatGU

    Ok I really think I might need to be picking this book up. Fish and I have a sordid relationship. I know it is good for our health, I love to cook and consider myself competent, and I enjoy fish out at restaurants. Being born and raised in Phoenix, Seafood wasn’t much of staple except during lent, then I married a Seattle boy and he loves his fish, but cooking fish seems to brings me to my knees every time. I never like the taste of what I prepare, end up cutting it apart while it cooking to see if its done, then grimace the whole time while I try to eat it. We even took a fish cooking class at Sur la Table, but I still am so intimidated.

  26. trashmaster46

    I just made New England clam chowder for the first time ever, after making a version of the Manhattan style for many years. My husband just used sardines for the first time ever too – he made a bagna cauda with them, somehow accidentally substituting them for the anchovies typically called for. He said it still came out fairly well.

  27. Nicole

    I definitely need to get this book.

    I eat a great deal of fish, most often tilapia as it is accessible, inexpensive, and pretty good even here in the Midwest. However, I admit that I also eat a great deal of salmon (usually purchased at Whole Foods) because it reminds me of Seattle, my second home and a place I get dreadfully homesick for regularly (right now I am craving strawberries from little roadside stands, as they were always what I picked up in my June time adventures out there.) I’m saddened to see on the seafood watch guide that they are fish to avoid in this part of the country because salmon is very much my relationship with the ocean; it’s my relationship with my beloved, far away Pacific Northwest. However, I am going to take this as a challenge to explore the fish on the guide that are sustainable and good for where I am. Thank you for this post.

  28. Mainecelt

    As a Northwesterner transplanted to Maine, I appreciate others’ posts about New England-specific safe choices for seafood. I still miss the healthy, deep color of wild Pacific salmon and can’t bear the look or taste of the Atlantic stuff. Most of the seafood I eat now comes from our farmers’ market. I am a vendor there and often gleefully trade our own pork roasts, chops, and nitrate-free bacon with another vendor who sells fresh seafood and live lobster. (My family’s tired of pork and her family’s tired of seafood, so it works for both of us!)

  29. Cecelia

    We made this last night and it was amazing, delicious. In fact it was the best curry we’ve ever made from scratch. Thanks to Becky for sharing the recipe and thanks to you for posting the recipe and mentioning this wonderful book, it’s now on my wishlist!

    As far as local seafood, we’re third (gulf) coasters, and we try to each as much local loot as we can. There’s a nice, small local market in Houston that sells recent, seasonal catches that we frequent. We do indulge in wild pacific salmon and halibut every now and then though.

  30. Jenna

    The book is one that looks tempting, although I’ll likely just give it a peruse at the library – east coast gal who now lives in the landlocked state of Ohio – so I am thinking most of the local fish in the book are pretty far off my radar for day to day recipes.

    My husband loves fish, and once upon a time, I remember doing so to. When I was a kid I lived on the coast in Mass and would often go with my mom to meet the fishermen and get something fresh for dinner. But now? The closest body of water has the annoying tendency to catch fire (Lake Erie AND the local rivers – fun fun) so no joy there. Frozen just seems off to my spoiled tastes – so fish has been bypassed for years. But. Well. My husband loves it. And I know I should eat/cook/enjoy it again, but have no clue where to start!

    Anyone know of good/reliable sources for fish in Ohio? Or best brand/breed of frozen to start exploring? Allergic to shellfish, so that’s out. And it’s weird – since being diagnosed with celiac I’ve explored food with joy and abandon – trying to embrace the great example ya’ll put forth here and in the books. My shelves are bursting with exotic spices, grains, I’ve played with dozens of local (and exotic) critters, new stores, new produce… but when it comes to fish – I’m apparently a big ol wuss and a few REALLY bad experiences have scared me off. Help? If anyone can help me figure this out – I’ll offer a home cooked GF meal at my place anytime! (When all else fails – I’m willing to try bribery!)

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