Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Arctic Char with Hoisin Glaze and Wasabi Butter Sauce

Doug Katz, the chef and owner of Fire Food and Drink has been recognized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for his commitment to offering sustainable seafood choices on his restaurant’s menu. It’s the only place in town where I can go knowing that any seafood dish I choose doesn’t require me to refer to my handy dandy pocket sized Seafood Watch guide …no Atlantic Salmon, no Snapper, no Chilean Sea Bass, etc. So when I discovered Artic Char on his menu this April, I was wasn’t I fish I had really heard of and I sure as heck didn’t recall seeing it at my local markets. When I tasted his crispy skin artic char with white asparagus and lemon risotto, I was smitten. I love salmon, so it makes perfect sense that I would be taken with the char as well. I would consider it a cousin to salmon, but with a milder flavor. Many describe it as somewhere between salmon and trout.

When I got home from that dinner, I began an almost immediate quest for Arctic Char recipes. However, I found out all too quickly, with the help of my friends at Google and Yahoo, that there is a real lack of mainstream exposure for this tasty, largely sustainable and relatively low cost fish. Why no love for the char, people? Is it because you’re consuming that terribly cheap and ecologically unsound Atlantic Salmon (don’t be ashamed, I too once was a fan of Atlantic Salmon, until I learned its dirty little secrets).

Through the Spring, I continued my periodic searches for char dishes and even went back to Fire Food and Drink and ate it again for my birthday dinner…just as good as the first time around, if not better. Then I discovered Fish Without A Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore at the bookstore and low and behold, it featured Artic Char and best of all, it had a recipe with one of my favorite ingredients (as a lover of all things asian), hoisin.

I’ve since found the char at my local Whole Foods…it was hard to find this summer and then a few weeks ago, there it was, calling out to me at the seafood counter….eat me.

So today, I finally had the time to make this dish and it was fantastic. The authors of Fish Without a Doubt suggested a side of Bok Choy or Cabbage…instead of using their recipe though, I turned to for a suggestion. Their Braised Baby Bok Choy was a perfect accompaniment to the sweet and salty hoisin glaze and wasabi butter with the char.

Before I jump to the recipes, I just want to express my love for this book. It’s educational, focused on sustainable seafood choices and it gives you ideas for fish substitutions and side dishes. It’s a well rounded book that tops out at over 450 pages and yes, it has lots of Artic char recipes…I can’t wait to try the next one.

Sauteed Char with Hoisin Glaze and Wasabi Butter Sauce

(Adapted from Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore)

2 6-8 oz. Artic char filets with skin on
Kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper
All purpose flour
Vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

Hoisin Glaze
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (we prefer Lee Kum Kee brand)
Juice of 1/2 lime (we used a whole lime)
Coarse salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 small garlic clove, minced or put through a press
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

Stir the hoisin, lime juice, honey, garlic, and cilantro together in a small bowl. Season with salt.

This can sit on the counter for a couple of hours; or store it, covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Wasabi Butter Sauce

2 tablespoons wasabi powder
2-3 teaspoons dry vermouth
Basic Butter Sauce, just made (see below for recipe)

Moisten the wasabi powder with the vermouth, stirring to make a smooth paste. Add the wasabi paste to the butter sauce and mix with an immersion blender. Serve or keep warm for up to 1 hour before serving. Add a few drops of water if the sauce becomes too thick.

Basic Butter Sauce

1/2 cup slices shallots
3/4 cup water
1 sprig thyme
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Coarse salt

Put the shallots, water and thyme into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium and cook at a low boil until the shallots are very soft and water has reduced to a generous 1/4 cup.

Remove the thyme and turn the heat to very low. Use an immersion blender to start pureeing the shallots. Add a piece of butter and continue to puree, emulsifying the water and butter. Continue to add the butter piece by piece, incorporating each bit of butter before adding another. Tilt the pan as you work and keep it over the heat. The sauce will become light and very pale yellow.

Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, pushing down any solids that remain with a wooden spoon. Return the sauce to the pan and season with salt.

Serve right away or keep at the back of the stove for an hour, whisking occasionally. Add a few drops of water if sauce becomes too thick.

For the main dish:

Heat a saute pan over high heat. Season char on both sides with salt and white pepper. Dust the skin lightly with all purpose flour.

Add some olive oil to the pan. Set the fillets, skin side down and reduce heat to medium-high. Press down on the fish with a spatula, listening for the sizzle that tells you you're making a good crust. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan, breaking it into smaller pieces so it will melt quickly. Once melted, tilt the pan and baste the fish with the butter. Cook for about 3 minutes on the 1st side. You will see the fish cooking from the bottom up. When almost cooked through, turn over the fish, turn off the heat and allow the fish to sit for 30 seconds or so. Transfer to paper towels.

To plate, put baby bok choy on the plate and set the fish on top of it. Add hoisin glaze as you like and drizzle the wasabi butter sauce onto the dish.

Braised Baby Bok Choy (from
– Serves 2

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