Halibut Agrodolce 4.000

Renee Comet for The Washington Post

Plate Lab May 16, 2014

Treat fish like chef Amy Brandwein does, and you'll be rewarded with better flavor and texture.

Here, she marinates halibut fillets with olive oil and aromatics. The cooking process is two-step: She starts the fillets in a lightly oiled, very hot pan to create a golden seared crust, arranging them at the edges of the pan so they take less-direct heat. Then she finishes the fish in a very hot oven.

Her no-cook sauce, which works for poultry as well, combines classic sweet and sour elements: fresh citrus and parsley, good olive oil, large capers, golden raisins and white wine vinegar. Hence the Italian name "agrodolce."

Make Ahead: The fish needs to marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. The sauce can be prepped and refrigerated (covered) a few hours in advance.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4 servings

  • For the fish
  • Olive oil
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • Four 6-ounce, skinned halibut fillets, at least 1 inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil, for cooking
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • For the sauce
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked, drained and chopped (see NOTES)
  • 5 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, preferably caputo (large ones), chopped (may substitute regular brined capers)
  • 1 teaspoon finely slivered lemon peel plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (see NOTES)
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar


For the fish: Pour just enough olive oil on a plate to coat the bottom. Rub the thyme sprig and smashed garlic clove in and around the oil.

Lightly season the halibut fillets all over with salt and pepper. Place them on the plate and turn to coat with the oil on all sides. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the olive oil, chopped raisins, shallot, parsley, capers, lemon peel slivers, lemon juice and vinegar in a medium bowl; stir to incorporate. Taste and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Heat a few teaspoons of canola oil in an ovenproof carbon-steel pan or seasoned cast-iron skillet over high heat until wisps of smoke appear. Place the fillets skinned side up in the pan, close to the edges. (Discard the marinade.) Cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes; the fish should be springy to the touch, with a golden brown crust on the bottom. Gently turn over the fillets.

Toss 4 lemon wedges onto the same pan, cut sides down. Transfer the pan to the oven; roast for about 2 minutes or until the halibut is bouncy to the touch -- not too firm. The wedges should have charred edges.

While the fillets rest, spoon some sauce on to the center of each plate. Arrange a fillet atop each portion of sauce. Spoon a little sauce on top of each piece of fish. Serve right away, with a charred lemon wedge for sprinkling.

NOTES: Place the raisins in a small bowl; cover with warm water and soak for 5 minutes.

To create fine slivers of lemon peel, use a Y-shaped peeler to remove a wide strip of peel from the lemon, then use the peeler to remove as much of the bitter white pith as possible before you cut the peel into fine slivers.

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Recipe Source

From Amy Brandwein, chef de cuisine at Alba Osteria in the District.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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