Recipe roulette: grill poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim chili “pesto”

I play a game with my husband sometimes, only he doesn’t know I’m playing it.  When I send him off to the market to pick up something for dinner and he asks me what I want him to buy,  I usually just say, “pick up a couple of proteins and a few veggies.”  I leave the rest up to him.  He then comes home with a bag full of Whole Foods and I have to figure out how to turn this bag into dinner.  It’s a recipe roulette of sorts, my own personal “Chopped” show, and I like it because it keeps my skills sharp.  You see, my husband’s choices can be random at times, but that’s the challenge and the fun of it.

Like the other night, when Big N came home with a hunky piece of Alaskan halibut, skirt steak, Italian eggplants, tomatillos, and two Anaheim chili peppers.  I let the recipe roulette play out in my head, reserving the skirt steak and eggplants for an easy grilled dinner the next night, and focused on the halibut, tomatillos, and chili peppers.  Hmm, what to do?  With some input from Big N, here’s what we came up with: olive oil poached halibut on the grill, with a grilled tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto” sauce.

I let Big N take lead on the fish, because he can make a mean “grill packet” out of heavy duty foil, the perfect vessel to poach a fish in oil on the grill, while I worked the sauce.  For the sauce, Big N grilled the tomatillos and chilis until they were charred, soft, and moist. I then peeled the chilis and threw them along with the tomatillos into the mini food processor, along with a few items I already had on hand: cilantro, pine nuts (as a thickener, which I first dry toasted on the stove to bring out their flavor), garlic, and half and half.  A few pulses and some salt and pepper later, I had a delicious, thick, creamy-tangy sauce with just a touch of heat from the peppers.

I also cooked up some quick polenta with chives and freshly grated parmesan (polenta and parmesan are two more staples I keep on hand).  And there you have it, olive oil poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto,” topped with grilled tomatillos, over polenta.  A winner to be sure, unlike your typical trip to the roulette table. halibut-tomatillo-4-of-4

Grill poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim chile pesto

Serves 4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Meal type Main Dish
Occasion Barbecue


  • 1 1/2lb Alaskan halibut
  • 3 tomatillos
  • 1 Anaheim Chile
  • 1/4 cup pinenuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup half and half (or cream, as needed)


  • 1 tablespoon cilantro (finely chopped)


Portion out halibut into two fillets and season both sides with salt and pepper. Make grill "packet" out of heavy foil. Pour generous amount of olive oil over fish and into packet.
Halibut Tomatillo (3 of 4)
Slide halibut packet onto grill over indirect heat. Also throw tomatillos and Anaheim pepper on the grill. Cover and grill tomatillos and pepper until slightly charred and soft. Grill halibut 10-12 minutes, depending on thickness, until slightly firm but still just a tad translucent and undercooked in the center. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.
Halibut Tomatillo (2 of 4)
3. In a dry skillet, add pine nuts and toast over medium heat until they start to brown, shaking pan regularly to promote even toasting on all sides. Add chopped garlic clove and cook 1 minute.
In a blender or mini food processor, add tomatillos, chile, pine nuts and garlic clove, plus cilantro if using. Pour in 1/8 cup of half and half and pulse or blend until finely blended. Season with salt and pepper. If too thick, thin with more half and half until desired consistency is reached.
Halibut Tomatillo (1 of 4)
5. Serve fish (over polenta or sautéed veggies) and spoon sauce around fish on plate.

Down the Hatch: Salmon with Hatch Chile Sauce

Late August brings Hatch chiles to the markets.  From New Mexico, these beauties resemble Anaheim chiles but are much more flavorful, with hints of apple and a smokey quality that make them perfect for roasting.  They add a tangy punch of flavor and spice to meat and fish dishes. 

At my local Bristol Farms, hatch chiles were the hype of the market, and I picked up a few along with a flyer with several recipes to try at home.  Most appealing was the grilled salmon recipe with hatch chile cream sauce (adapted to my liking below).

To really make the dish pop, I added a garnish of finger limes, another August produce find.  Finger limes aren’t like any citrus you’ve seen before.  They’re tiny and adorable and when you cut them in half you find little cavier-like lime pearls.  You can’t “juice” them per se, but the lime “caviers” added a touch of sweet soapy lime citrus to the dish and look really impressive on the plate.  Fun stuff.  (Also try adding finger limes to tuna poke. Yummy.)

The hatch cream sauce for my salmon used basic simple ingredients and was easy enough to make (though you need to bust out your blender), and anything creamy on salmon is a treat.  Grilling the salmon is the only way to go for this recipe because you want that smokiness from the grill to complement the sauce.  I served my salmon with an heirloom tomato and feta salad and an Oregon chardonnay.  A perfect late summer meal to enjoy on the patio.

*Note: if you have any extra cream sauce, reserve and refrigerate it.  The cold cream sauce will turn into an aioli of sorts.  Last night we grilled burgers and topped them with grilled hatch chiles and used the cold cream sauce in place of mayo.  Delish!

Behold: grilled salmon with hatch chile cream sauce and finger lime cavier.  Fancy, eh?

Grilled Salmon with Hatch Chile Cream Sauce

Serves 6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
Meal type Main Dish


  • 3 Hatch Chiles (Anaheims will work if Hatch aren't in season)
  • 6 pieces Salmon (6 oz portions; I used King salmon, but any salmon will do. Get fresh and wild if you can afford it.)
  • 2 Green onions (Finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup Dry white wine
  • 1 Lime
  • 1.5 cups Heavy Cream
  • Olive oil


This recipe makes enough sauce for 6 portions of salmon.  You can make less salmon and reserve leftover sauce for another use.

Adapted from Jamie's Gwen's recipe found on flyer in Bristol Farms market.


First roast the chiles by placing them on your hot grill or directly on top of your stove burner. Turn with tongs until skin is evenly charred and blackened all over. Then place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes. The steam in the bowl helps loosen the skin. Remove skin by rubbing the charred bits with a paper towl. Then slice open and discard seeds. Finely dice.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan. When hot add onions and saute for 1 minute. Then add roasted and diced chiles.
3. Add white wine and simmer until almost all of the wine has evaporated.
Add the cream and boil on medium heat until cream is reduced by half and sauce is thickened.
Squeeze juice of the lime into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer mixture to blender and blend until smooth (be careful as mixture is hot). Return to pan and keep warm until ready to use.
7. Prepare salmon for grill by seasoning with salt and pepper and brushing with olive oil. Make sure your grill grates are clean and oiled well to prevent salmon from sticking. Depending on the thickness of your salmon and your grilling temperature, it'll take about 5-10 minutes to grill. You want it still slightly underdone in the center, not cooked through.
Pour 2 tablespoons of sauce onto plate and top with salmon. Garnish with more green onions, and lime zest or finger limes.

Let it marinate: Skirt Steak with Sambal marinade

Sambal badjak marinade A little while back Big N received a unique gift: a jar of Netty’s Sambal Badjak.  I consider myself well versed in international cuisine but had never heard of such a thing.  Apparently the person who gave it to him bought it from his neighbor, little old Netty herself.  After a little research (thank you Wikipedia), I discovered that sambal, a chili sauce with lots of variations depending on the region where it’s made, is a popular condiment in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.

The paste itself resembles your ordinary chili paste often seen in plastic jars with mini spoons on the tables of your neighborhood Chinese restaurants, right next to the hot mustard.  But in my sambal the addition of shrimp paste and onions gave this sauce a pungency that sets it apart from other chili sauces.  Now I had to figure out how to use my sambal and settled on an Asian marinade for skirt steak.

The marinade was easy enough to put together with items I had in the pantry, marinade recipe below (feel free to substitute Sriracha Rooster Sauce or your favorite chili sauce if you aren’t lucky enough to be a friend of a friend of Netty herself), but I was short on time.  I only had about 2 hours to marinate my steak before dinner.  Turns out it didn’t matter one bit.  The citrus in the marinade helped penetrate my steak in no time.

Skirt steak with sambal badjak marinade

When Big N pulled our steak off the grill the aroma of toasted sesame and savory soy sauce filled our dining room.  The steak was tender and juicy and the marinade gave it a delightful spicy kick that shook up my palate.  Skirt steak isn’t all that exciting unless it’s enhanced with a good marinade, and this one quickly became my new favorite.  I paired my steak with sauteed spinach and orzo with peas and grilled corn.

Netty has a winner here.  Next I’m going to try her Sambal Badjak on shrimp.  I hear that’s the way Emeril likes his Sambal.

Sambal Badjak Marinade

Serves 4
Prep time 30 minutes
Meal type Main Dish
Region Indonesian


  • 1-2 tablespoon Chili paste (Sambal, Sriracha, or Thai Chili Paste, to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons Sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup Soy sauce
  • 1 Orange (Scrape the zest, then add all the juice)
  • 2 cloves Garlic (Minced)
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger (Minced fresh is best, or 1 1/2 tsp of ground ginger if desired)


  • 1 teaspoon Fish sauce (Found in Asian grocery stores, stinky stuff, use sparingly)


Makes enough marinade for 1 1/2 pounds of steak or shrimp.


1. Whisk liquid ingredients together.
2. Add orange zest, minced garlic and ginger. Whisk.
3. Marinate meat for 2-8 hours, shrimp for 1-2 hours. If you’re going to marinate overnight, decrease soy sauce a little to prevent over salting of meat.