Arctic char is among my favorite fish; I love its delicate, sweet flavor and pink colored flesh that flakes ever so delicately. I love how easy it is to cook; I prepare it all year- on the grill in the summer, roasted or sautéed when it is too cold to barbecue. I love its versatility – acidic ingredients brighten its flavor, earthy mushrooms compliment its salmon like taste. Last night I roasted char, and garnished it with a simple kumquat gremolata (chopped kumquats, shallot, and Italian parsley). I cooked potato and fennel wedges alongside, so the entire meal was made at one time.
Steve and I enjoy fish, and we usually eat it a couple of times a week. But choosing seafood can be confusing- which fish are environmentally correct, and which of those are low in mercury? It is easy to settle on wild salmon as the one safe fish, but I like to venture further out. My friends are always asking for help choosing and cooking seafood and I intend to help them and lure you with recipes for a variety of delicious, risk-free fish.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has established a consumer’s guide to sustainable seafood, called Seafood Watch , which offers information to help select seafood that is good for you and good for the oceans. Handy wallet cards that recommend which seafood to buy or avoid can be downloaded or ordered on the website. Happily, char gets the highest classification- Best Choice. It is one of the few fish that is farmed responsibly, so don’t be alarmed when the sign at the store states that it is not wild. Two more reasons to love char: it is relatively high in omega-3 fatty acids, and pollutant free- definitely a good choice all around.
The one down side to char is that it can be difficult to find, however this recipe is also delicious made with salmon or trout. Seafood markets, such as Santa Monica Seafood (link) carry char, and Fish King in Glendale (link) and Whole Foods Markets will order it with one day notice. I usually stop at Santa Monica Seafood after shopping at the nearby Santa Monica farmers’ market (link). I keep an insulated lunch box-size cooler in the car, to keep the fish fresh while I attend to other errands, and the store supplies an ice pack. To make char easier to find, I encourage you to ask for it at the supermarket you frequent most- if enough people request char, it should become more available, and one of your favorites too.
Kumquats are in season right now; they looked so pretty this week, I purchased a bagful. I usually eat them straight- just pop one in my mouth and enjoy the contrast of the sweetish skin bathed in the explosion of sour juice. Last night, I discovered that the sweet-tart combo is perfect with fish. I struggled with chopping the kumquats, until I came up with this easy process: cut one in half lengthwise, then thinly slice lengthwise, working on the cut side of the fruit (not the skin side), discarding the pesky seeds as you go. Line up the slices and cut crosswise. Once you get the knack, it will take only minutes to chop the 8 little fruits used here, and the flavor payoff is unbeatable.
Arctic Char with Kumquat with Roasted Fennel and Potatoes
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 ¼ to 1 1/3 pounds Yukon gold, or russet potatoes
- 3 small fennel bulbs, tops trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil plus more to dab on the fish
- Coarse kosher salt
- 3 6- ounce arctic char, wild salmon, or trout fillets
- 8 kumquats
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- Arrange one rack in the lower third and one rack in the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray 1 large baking sheet and one small baking sheet with olive oil spray, or brush the sheets with olive oil.
- Stir the fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice mill and grind coarsely.
- Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each pieces lengthwise into 4 wedges that measure about ¾ inch at the widest part. Place in a large bowl. Halve the fennel bulbs lengthwise, and then cut into wedges that measure about ½ inch at the widest part. Place in the bowl with the potatoes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread on the large baking sheet. Place on the center rack in the oven and roast until beginning to brown on the bottom and almost tender, about 35 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the fish and gremolata: Arrange the fish fillets skin side down on the small baking sheet. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining 2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds, coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Dip a pastry brush in olive oil, and dab over the fish. Halve the kumquats lengthwise, then thinly slice lengthwise (it is easier to slice the cut side of the fruit than the skin side), discarding the seeds. Cut the slices finely crosswise, forming chopped kumquats. Sprinkle ½ of the chopped kumquats over the fish. Place the remaining kumquats in a small bowl; mix in the parsley and shallot to make the gremolata.
- After the vegetables have roasted for 35 minutes, place the fish on the lower oven rack. Roast the fish and vegetables until the fish is just springy to the touch and opaque in the center and the vegetables are brown on the bottom and tender, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the fish and vegetables to plates; sprinkle with the gremolata and serve.