Arctic Char with Basil Sauce
According to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Arctic Char is a “sustainable seafood superstar,” especially when farmed in recirculating aquaculture systems. Recirculating what? I know there is a lot of information out there about fish and the fishing industry. It is a big and complex issue, and one that I do care about. So, when I learn about any fish sold in the market that is a non-polluter or is sustainably caught, I feel a lot more comfortable about buying it.
Several years ago, when my youngest son was in High School, he had to write a research paper about over-fishing. When he was all done he looked up to me and asked, “Can we stop eating fish? This is really bad.” My heart broke in several places. First, my heart broke witnessing my child come to a scary realization concerning his future. It wasn’t the first, or be the last time he perceives a troubling reality, but no parent ever wants their children to feel vulnerable and scared.
Second, the prospect of the fish population completely disappearing was a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. Up until then, I had always taken the fish population for granted. My heartbreaking list goes on, but if I am completely honest, selfishly I like eating fish and there is only so much chicken a person can eat. I gave my son what I hoped was a reassuring look and offered a heartfelt, but generic parent response, “I understand. We can try.”
I never eliminated fish from our diet, but we did cut back. It’s not like we ate a lot of fish in the first place (about once a week), but I believed it was important to show solidarity and make concerted effort to learn about the origin of the fish I buy. Honestly, the price of fish is the determining factor if I buy it or not. I have a tight budget and try to buy the best quality food that I can afford. As much as I would like to eat wild Alaskan King Salmon, its selling price upwards of $24 a pound is not an option for me. When I discovered Arctic Char at half the price, and a sustainable good quality farm raised fish, I thought ok I can do this.
It is not easy to be forward and ask fishmongers the origin of the fish you want to buy. Nobody wants to be like the couple in Portlandia asking ridiculous questions about the source of their food. Then getting so worked up about it they have to leave. It is my experience that grocery store fish departments are not eager to answer customers questions about where their fish comes from. You can tell by the general information on the name card next to the fish. Often, I read the fish is from the Atlantic Ocean, or farm raised in South America. ShopRite and Whole Foods are the only supermarket chains I know that identify their fresh fish with detailed and specific information. Unfortunately neither store exist in my neighborhood.
With Seafood Watch’s seal of approval for Arctic Char, I can buy fish without feeling like I broke a promise. Char has a more delicate flavor than salmon, but has similar nutritional benefits as a great source of healthy protein and Omega 3’s. It is an easy fish dinner and quickly done in under 15 minutes. Arctic Char is easily prepared either baked, grilled, or broiled. The quick prep time makes it perfect as a nutritious weeknight dinner, or dressed up for an elegant dinner party. Even fussy fish eaters will enjoy its delicate flavor.
Arctic Char with Basil Sauce is my recipe inspired by and slightly adapted from Seamus Mullen’s Arctic Char with Sorrel Sauce, from Hero Foods . I just swapped out the sorrel with basil. Though, I am curious to try the sorrel next spring. Additionally, I slightly adapted the cooking process. The basil sauce is a light sauce made with basil, yogurt, a splash of wine and shallots. It might look and taste creamy, but there is no heavy cream in sight. If you are really pressed for time, just bake the Char seasoned with salt, herbs and lemon juice. It is a delicious meal any way you prepare it. The sauce does add another layer of flavor and is just as delicate and fresh tasting as the Arctic Char.
This could be in the too much information category, but I always hear people muddling over how much food to buy, especially fish. So, I want to talk about portion size. Seamus Mullen’s recipe for Arctic Char says it serves four people from one 12 oz piece of Char. That amounts to four-3 oz servings. Four servings from one 12 oz side of Arctic Char is on the skimpy side, 2 -3 servings from 12 oz of fish is more realistic.
The 3 oz serving size was fine for me and my husband as a lite supper with a side of sautéed fennel and green beans. It would not have been enough food if my sons were eating with us. 3 oz is perfect for young children, but probably not for teenagers and athletic adults. The portion size of fish, also depends on what additional side dishes you plan to serve.
Based on my research on diet and nutrition, 6 oz of animal protein is a good serving size for dinner, and 3 oz for lunch. The store clerk the butcher or fish monger will recommend an 8 oz serving per person. Armed with the above info, you can decide what size portion is large enough to feed your family or friends. If you want to serve Char for a dinner party and keep the cost down, it is OK to plan on 4 oz per person. Serve with several generous side dishes, and there will be plenty of food.
If you are concerned about the environment and the depleting fish population, eating smaller portions of fish might lessen the demands on the fish population. That is one small step you can contribute.
I am a firm believer that little things add up and can make a big difference. What “actions” do you take to help keep our environment and food supply healthy? Also, let me know your favorite way of preparing Arctic Char. Please respond in the comments sections of this post. I would love to hear from you.
Arctic Char with Basil Sauce
- 8 bunches of Basil the leaves will weigh about 1 oz or equal 2 cups, lightly packed
- 1 oz (28 g) or heaping Tb of minced shallots
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 2 -3 Tb yogurt
- Zest from one lemon
- 1 Tb dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 12 oz (340 g) piece of Arctic Char
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 4 sprigs of lemon thyme or thyme
- Juice from half a lemon
- 1 Tb butter divided into 4 equal parts
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh Ground Pepper
Make the Basil Sauce *see note
Quickly blanch the Basil leaves in boiling salted water for about 15 seconds. This will help preserve the bright green color. Drain the basil from the boiling water into a fine mesh strainer. Gently press down on the basil to get rid of some of the water. You do not have to squeeze out all the water, just most of it. Add the basil to the bowl of a food processor, or if making by hand mince with a sharp knife.
Place a small skillet on the burner and turn the heat to medium, add olive oil and minced shallots and sauté until the shallots have softened and become translucent. Add the wine and let it steam up for a for a few seconds. Turn off the stove and pour the shallots into the small bowl of a food processor, (or mixing bowl if making by hand.)
Add the yogurt, lemon zest, about 1/8 tea of Kosher salt and ground pepper to the basil and shallots in the food processor. Process until everything is well blended. Taste the sauce and add more seasoning if needed. Process the sauce some more in the food processor until you have a nice emulsion and the basil leaves are thoroughly blended as smooth as possible. Set aside. There should be about 1/2 cup of sauce.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the Char into equal size portions, anywhere from 2 - 4 pieces to your liking.
Using a sharp knife lightly score the skin of the Char being careful not to cut through the skin to the flesh. This should prevent the filet from curling up when it hits the heat of the pan.
Heat a heavy-duty oven proof skillet, that is large enough to hold all the Char filets, on high heat.
Add the olive oil to the pan and heat the oil but do not let the olive oil smoke.
Add the Char filets skin side down, and sear the Char until the skin is crispy, about 4 minutes.
Turn off the stove and place a sprig of thyme and a knob of butter on each filet.
Place the pan in the oven and cook for 4-5 minutes in the oven until the Char is done but still slightly moist in the center.
Be careful not to overcook the Char. It is done when there is some resistance of the flesh when you press down on it with your finger. It is a very delicate fish and you want it to still be moist and not dried out and flaky.
Take a heaping soup spoonful of basil sauce and spread it across the middle of your plate. Place the Arctic Char in the center of the sauce and serve with your favorite side dishes.
I used my mini prep food processor to make the sauce. If you have a bender or immersion blender, feel free to use it. You will be able to get a smother sauce and have the basil completely pureed in the yogurt. If you do own a food processor the small bowl option is better suited to making this sauce. If you do not have a smaller bowl for your food processor you might need to double the recipe. Any extra sauce can be used as a marinade for baked chicken. Just add some lemon juice or white wine to thin it out. Do not be discouraged from making this sauce if you do not have a blender or a food processor. Yogurt and herb sauces are delicious with fish and can easily be made by hand. Follow the instructions but mince the basil and add to all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Mix all the ingredients together. Serve the sauce on the side.
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