If you’ve made any sort of New Year’s resolutions regarding food and health, chances are (unless you’re a vegetarian or hate seafood) fish has worked its way into your meal planning. Dinners that include lean protein, low-but-good fat, and minimal carbs may be a priority. This arctic char recipe fits the bill.
However, it’s for none of these reasons I suggest you make this. Why you should, coming from someone who couldn't tell you what it means to be Whole30 compliant (until just now, that is, when I Googled it), is this: First and foremost, it’s delicious. Second, it’s easy and demands about 15 minutes of active time. Third, it requires a handful of ingredients, most of which you have on hand—there’s a crate of oranges sitting on your countertop, right? And last but not least, it tastes fresh and bright, just what we need the most this time of year.
Here’s the gist: Broil fish and top with citrus sauce. The latter’s a long-time favorite of mine from Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook. Sally describes it as an “all-purpose sauce for fish.” It’s essentially segments of oranges and lemon, their juice, olive oil, and salt. It tastes like a not-so-sharp vinaigrette, and it’s not emulsified. I add minced chives for color. In the past, I’ve served this sauce with whole grilled snapper or roasted striped bass fillets, but most recently, I’ve been spooning it over broiled arctic char.
Arctic char, if you're unfamiliar, looks similar to salmon in hue, but genetically is closer to trout. This is most apparent in arctic char’s thickness, which rarely measures greater than three-quarters of an inch. It tastes mild but there’s an appealing richness in its texture.
When marinated briefly with a tablespoon each of citrus juice (stolen from the aforementioned sauce), olive oil, and honey, its flesh caramelizes under the broiler, creating visually appealing spots of charred char (ha!). Fillets will cook in no more than 5 minutes, at which point they’re ready to welcome a refreshing sauce swimming with citrus segments.
Serve this broiled char with a salad and a big hunk of bread, and don’t think twice about any resolutions here—this sauce demands a crusty, toasty mop.
A few notes:
I’ve been buying arctic char from my favorite local market that sells a farm-raised variety from Iceland. Farm-raised fish isn't something I would have considered buying until very recently, when I began researching various fisheries and their practices. Both this char and char I’ve purchased from Whole Foods Market come from Iceland, whose operations, as far as I can tell from online sites and endorsements from sources like the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, appear pristine and sustainable.
Arctic char is mild and delicious. It's thin, so it cooks quickly. The trick I've found to getting the flesh to caramelize without overcooking is to get the fish closer to the heat source—I use a turned over sheet pan set on a rack 4 inches from the heat source to bring my broiling pan to a distance of 3 inches from the heat source.
The sauce: It’s nice to use a mix of citrus. I love using Cara Cara oranges for their sweet flavor and pretty hue, but it’s nice to include more acidic varieties of citrus, too, such as other navel oranges, nectarines, or blood oranges.
Portion size: For years we’ve been told to count on 6 ounces to a half a pound of fish per person. But I find myself asking recently, says who? And why should we listen? I’ve been reading Cal Peternell’s latest book, A Recipe for Cooking, and saw a recipe for “fish with crisp skin” that calls for 3-ounce portions. This is probably a better portion size, I thought. Three-ounce portions, of course, will make for a light meal, so be sure to have some vegetables, a grain salad, or a big loaf of bread on the side. —Alexandra Stafford
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 5 minutes
- Serves 4
small oranges, a mix is nice (I've been using Cara Cara and tangerines)
olive oil, divided
(3- to 4-ounce) arctic char fillets
finely chopped chives
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Position a rack 3 inches from the broiler. (Note: I can position a rack only 4 inches from the broiler. To get the pan 3 inches from the heat source, I turn over a rimmed sheet pan and set it on the rack—I do this when the fish is ready to be broiled.) Heat the broiler to high.
- If you know how to supreme citrus fruit, do that, squeezing and reserving any juice left in the rinds, then skip to step 2. Otherwise: Slice off the ends of each orange and the lemon. Squeeze the juice out of those ends into a medium bowl. Discard the rind. (It’s handy to have a garbage bowl nearby for this step.) Stand each piece of fruit on one of its cut sides. Run a knife down the side of each orange and the lemon to remove the skin. Squeeze the juice out of those skins into the bowl, then discard. Remove each citrus segment by running a knife down the side of each membrane and slicing the segment out. Drop it into the bowl of juice. Once all of the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining membranes into the bowl to extract the juice. You should be left with a bowl of beautiful segments swimming in a lot of juice. (If this doesn't make sense, YouTube it.)
- Pour 1 tablespoon of the juice from the bowl of citrus segments into a large bowl. Add the honey and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Whisk to combine. Add the fish and toss to coat. Let marinate for at least 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into the bowl with the citrus segments. Add the chives and a big pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Taste—it should taste similar to a salad dressing with perhaps less of a bite. It should not be emulsified.
- Rub a sizzle pan, sheet pan, or broiler pan lightly with the neutral oil. Remove the fish from the marinade, letting the excess drip off—no need to pat dry. Discard the excess marinade. Place the fish skin side down in the pan. Season the flesh with salt (and pepper, if you wish) to taste. Place a sheet pan upside down on the rack (see why, if you've forgotten, in step 1), then place the pan with the fillets in it on top. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the fish to a platter. Spoon the sauce over the top. Pass the extra sauce on the side.