3 fish recipes from top Dallas chefs for your first post-pandemic dinner party

Hallelujah, we’re throwing dinner parties again! But what to serve when you want a stellar summer entree that comes together quickly? Recent restaurant visits fed us the answer: fish, with zesty flavors.

Whether roasted or grilled, most fish filets or steaks cook in less than ten minutes, freeing you for more time with your guests. Chef-level dishes require some flavor wizardry, though, so we asked the top toques at Monarch, José and Shinsei for advice. They shared fabulous fish recipes that are surprisingly easy to prepare, thanks to do-ahead sauces and rubs.

Eric Dreyer, executive chef of Monarch in downtown Dallas, offers a recipe from the restaurant’s new menu: pan-roasted halibut with a Southern Italian-inspired tomato and olive sauce. He says the sauce can be made up to three days before serving, and would work well on any firm-fleshed fish, even the humble cod (an affordable choice for a weeknight meal). Monarch prepares the dish using three 2-ounce filets per person, but Dreyer adapted the recipe to use one 6-ounce filet per serving — making it easier to cook for a group. The dish is garnished with a pine nut gremolata, which can be prepared up to two days ahead.

Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, executive chef of José on Lovers Lane, shares the recipe for the restaurant’s popular Salmon al Pastor. The complex Al Pastor Sauce — famously used on pork — takes well to salmon. It can be whizzed up in the blender an hour before using. Quiñones-Pittman uses the tangy sauce like a wet barbecue rub, brushing it on the salmon before grilling — another step that can be done before guests arrive. Redfish or red snapper can be subbed for the salmon, she says; but since these fish are more delicate, she recommends cooking them in the oven instead of grilling.

Shinsei restaurant incorporates Asian flavors in its Cast Iron Swordfish with Lemongrass-Ginger Butter. The make-ahead butter also enhances salmon, says Tracy Rathbun, co-owner of the Dallas restaurant. At the restaurant, the swordfish is seared, sliced, then finished at the table, in a screaming-hot cast iron serving skillet (think fajita-style).

“The server pours the butter on, and it sizzles up; the smell is amazing,” she says. We’ve adapted the recipe, fully cooking the swordfish steaks in a cast iron skillet and plating them whole, drizzled with the aromatic butter. Rathbun says that the Lemongrass-Ginger Butter is also great on sautéed asparagus and broccoli.

Read on for recipes that are suited for company, yet easy enough for weeknights — and wine suggestions, too.

Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.

Pesto on Pizza Crust
Roasted Halibut with tomato and olive sauce from Chef Eric Dreyer at Monarch restaurant in Downtown Dallas
Roasted Halibut with tomato and olive sauce from Chef Eric Dreyer at Monarch restaurant in Downtown Dallas(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Pan Roasted Halibut with Tomato-Olive Sauce

½ cup plus 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided use)

½ teaspoon red chile flakes

1 tablespoon minced garlic

¾ cup dry white wine

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig oregano

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt, to taste

½ cup sliced Castelvetrano olives

½ cup sliced Kalamata olives

½ cup sliced Nicoise olives

4 (6-ounce) halibut filets, skin removed

Pine Nut Gremolata (recipe follows)

8 leaves fresh basil, torn

Make the Tomato Olive Sauce: In a medium-size saucepan set over medium to medium-high heat, add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and the red chili flakes. Add the garlic and sweat, while stirring, until garlic begins to turn golden on the edges (if it’s taking more than a few minutes, raise the heat to medium-high, but be careful not to brown the garlic). Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half and alcohol has been cooked out, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, oregano, and tomatoes. Season with salt, to taste. Lower the heat to maintain a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes, to further reduce the mixture. Turn off the heat and add the olives. Remove the thyme and oregano sprigs. (May be prepared up to 3 days ahead and reheated.)

Pat the halibut fillets dry with paper towels or a tea towel. Season lightly with salt.

In a wide sauté pan, over medium-high heat, add 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is very hot, carefully add halibut filets to the pan and sear for a minute or two (be careful as the oil may splatter), or until golden. Turn the filets over and add the tomato and olive sauce to the pan. Lower the heat to medium to maintain a simmer. Cook, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until cooked through.

Place each filet in the center of a warm plate. Evenly spoon the tomato and olive sauce over the filets. Garnish with the Pine Nut Gremolata and torn basil leaves.

Pine Nut Gremolata: Toast 1/4 cup pine nuts; roughly chop them and set aside. In a small saucepan, fry a sprig of rosemary in hot oil for about 30 seconds. Dry on paper towels, then roughly chop enough leaves to measure 1 teaspoon. Add rosemary to pine nuts, along with 1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

Source: Eric Dreyer, Executive Chef, Monarch

Wine suggestions: Monarch’s lead sommelier, Yuri Tukuli, recommends Jankara Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG (about $30 at Pogo’s, by special order). This aromatic Sardinian wine (from the island’s only DOCG) has a savory quality and a weightier palate than most vermentinos, he says. Tukuli also suggests a rosé from Mt. Etna and a Nero D’Avola. Good choices include Erse Etna Rosato DOC, 2019 ($21.99, Jimmy’s) and Planeta “La Segreta” Nero D’ Avola DOC, 2016 ($12 to $15, at Jimmy’s and Eataly).

Salmon al Pastor - achiote grilled salmon, sautéed kale, white rice, grilled pineapple and pickled red onion salad, from the restaurant José.
Salmon al Pastor – achiote grilled salmon, sautéed kale, white rice, grilled pineapple and pickled red onion salad, from the restaurant José.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Salmon al Pastor

2 dried guajillo peppers

2 ounces pineapple juice

2 tablespoons salt

2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons red chile powder

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano

1 1/2 bay leaves, crumbled

2 ounces white vinegar

2 tablespoons achiote-seed paste

2 ounces orange juice

4 to 6 (6-ounce) salmon filets, skin-on

Make the Al Pastor Sauce: Devein and remove seeds from guajillo chile peppers. Place peppers in a small saucepan, cover with 6 ounces of water, and bring to a boil, covered. Remove from heat. Let chiles stand while you place all other ingredients (except salmon) in a blender. Strain chiles into a sieve (discard the soaking water), then add the chile peppers to the blender. Puree until smooth, and strain through a fine sieve (may be held at room temperature for one hour before using).

Prepare the salmon: Place fish on a non-reactive dish, skin side-down. Spoon or liberally brush Al Pastor Sauce over each filet’s flesh side, to cover evenly (may be prepared to this point and refrigerated, covered for an hour or so before grilling).

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Using a grill brush, thoroughly scrape the grill grate clean and oil it (wad up paper towels, dip them briefly in vegetable oil, then use tongs to rub the grill grate with them). Place salmon filets on the hot grill grate, skin-side-up (you want the sauced side to get caramelized by direct contact with the grill). After 3 minutes, rotate the fish 90 degrees to get cross-hatched grill marks (if it doesn’t release easily from the grill, use a fish spatula). Continue cooking on this side for another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness (you do not need to flip the fish). Fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork. Transfer to plates and serve with white rice and/or a salad of pickled red onions and grilled pineapple with arugula.

Source: Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, Executive Chef of José

Wine suggestions: We enjoyed the dish with Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucía Highlands, 2018 (about $39; Total Wine in Irving, select Whole Foods Market stores, and Sigel’s on Greenville and on Fitzhugh). It has vibrant acidity, and notes of black cherry, raspberry, clove, smoke and baking spice that complemented the complex sauce. For a refreshing white choice, we liked the J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2019 ($15 to $17, Sigel’s, Specs, and Total Wine). Its mouthwatering acidity and juicy citrus and pineapple flavors played well with the sauce’s fruit and chile notes.

Chef Anastacia-Quinones Pittman shares her recipe for Carrot Habanero soup, shown here topped with crab.
Pour garlic butter on the Cast Iron Swordfish dish with ginger and lemongrass from Shinsei restaurant in Dallas.
Pour garlic butter on the Cast Iron Swordfish dish with ginger and lemongrass from Shinsei restaurant in Dallas.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Cast Iron Swordfish with Lemongrass-Ginger Butter

4 (1-inch thick, 6-ounce) swordfish steaks

2 teaspoons sea salt

4 teaspoons Togarashi seasoning (sold at Central Market and Asian grocery stores)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 to 8 tablespoons Lemongrass-Ginger Butter (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons green onion (green part only), sliced thin

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat oven to 400 F. Season both sides of swordfish with sea salt, then evenly coat both sides with Togarashi. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet (or enameled cast iron pan) until hot. When oil is sizzling hot, add swordfish steaks and sear for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip the steaks and place in oven to finish cooking (about 5 or 6 minutes, or until done in the center; watch closely to avoid overcooking). Fish is done when it is opaque in the center, flakes easily with a fork, and is firm when pressed. Add Lemongrass-Ginger Butter to the hot skillet. Transfer fish to serving plates. Pour butter evenly over swordfish steaks. Garnish with green onions.

Source: Adapted from Shinsei Restaurant

Wine suggestions: Kelly Newman, beverage director for Shinsei (and its sibling restaurant, Lovers Seafood) suggests a sancerre, such as $36.99 Domaine Delaporte “Silex” Sancerre ($36.99 at Pogo’s), or Champagne or a California sparkler, such as the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut ($39, widely available). We enjoyed the dish with the Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2019 ($23.99, Pogo’s), a food-friendly white blend with great acidity, made of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, and nescetta (a white grape native to the Langhe region).

Lemongrass-Ginger Butter

1 lemongrass stalk

1/2 cup butter

1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass (see note)

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped ginger

Juice from 1/2 medium lemon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Cut 1/2 inch off the bottom of lemongrass stalk and discard. Remove and discard tough outer layer. Cut 5 inches from the bottom and discard the green “grassy” tops and hard stems. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, thinly slice enough from the remaining 5-inch stalk to measure 1 tablespoon, then finely chop. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add lemongrass, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and salt. Raise heat and simmer for 2 minutes to allow aromatics to bloom. May be used immediately, or refrigerated, covered up to two days, and reheated. Use on grilled or roasted firm-fleshed fish (such as swordfish or salmon) or vegetables (such as asparagus or broccoli).

Source: Shinsei Restaurant

Pistachio Lemon Pesto can be served on your pasta of choice.
Cast Iron Swordfish with ginger, lemongrass and garlic butter from Shinsei restaurant
Cast Iron Swordfish with ginger, lemongrass and garlic butter from Shinsei restaurant(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)
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