Seared Halibut Cheeks
With Golden Kiwi, Avocado, and Macadamia Tartare
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This post was sponsored by Zespri Kiwifruit and their yellow Sungold Kiwis. All opinions and recommendations are my own.
I really love cooking with fruit. Desserts are great, but I really like seeing fruit make its way into savoury dishes. Despite the fact that the results can be wonderful, it’s still a bit of a tough sell at times. I think there’s something of a mental disconnect when it comes to savoury fruits; when we think fruit, we think sweet, and when we think sweet we definitely don’t think of the average main course. But a little sweetness can bring a lot to a dish, and fruits can add flavour and dimension that can be unique and exceptional. So when I received a chance to create a recipe using Zespri’s yellow SunGold kiwis, I not only jumped at the chance, but I knew I’d be skipping out on dessert.
When you cook a savoury dish with kiwis, or any fruit, the key is balance. The SunGold kiwi is a fairly new cultivar of the golden kiwi (Actinidia chinensis), and it has a unique and wonderful sweet/tart flavour, somewhere between a strawberry and a mango. While I wanted to highlight those wonderful elements, I didn’t want to let them overpower the dish. In order to achieve that perfect balance, the sauce borrows one my favorite go-to Korean marinade tricks: pureed shallots. It sounds a little odd, but when you puree an onion or a shallot and add it to a sauce or marinade, it adds amazing dimension and pushes things in a distinctly savoury direction. The tartness of the kiwis is emphasized with dry white wine and rice vinegar. Olive oil and sesame oil help carry the flavours and add texture. Lastly, a little turmeric adds earthiness while emphasizing that glorious golden colour. And that’s just the sauce! The seared halibut is wonderful (if you haven’t had fish cheeks you are, believe it or not, missing out on the best part of the fish). The black rice adds visual punch along with a great berry-like flavour. Plus if you feel like getting fancy (or even fancy-shmancy) it plates up REAL nice.
Cooking with fruit has another wonderful advantage, in that it creates flavours that are independent of the central protein. This means you can be flexible about what you make. Don’t have fish cheeks? Use chicken. Want to make it into a simple, all-in-one meal? Serve the tartare over rice with extra sauce, and some seitan or tofu (or skip the protein altogether). No matter what, you’ve got bold and memorable flavours to anchor the meal.
As a final note, while I was making this, I was struck by how international the whole thing was. Canadian fish, New Zealand kiwis (originally from China), Mexican avocados, Thai black rice, Hawaiian macadamias (originally from Australia), Spanish olive oil, Japanese rice vinegar, Indian turmeric… whew! It’s a little amazing when you really think about it. Our kitchens have become a world atlas in miniature, and that’s absolutely incredible. It’s also a big part of what Diversivore is all about. When you expand your culinary horizons, the world comes to your doorstep. With that comes a greater appreciation for your food, as well as the people and ecosystems connected to it. It is, in a very literal sense, food for thought.
Don’t let the number of ingredients put you off – the marinade and the tartare feature many of the same ingredients. I’ve simply separated them for clarity (because I can’t stand when a recipe sacrifices clarity for brevity). As for the ingredients themselves, they’re all quite easy to work with. For more detail, keep on reading.
The real star of this dish is, unsurprisingly, the kiwis. First, a little about what they’re NOT. Golden kiwis are not just a kiwi with a colour change. They’re actually a different species from the more common green Hayward kiwi (the kiwi genus Actinidia is actually a very diverse one), and they have a very different overall taste. The flavour is sweet and a little sour, with a lovely subtropical sort of vibe. I actually like them a little better than green kiwis. Because they have a flavour all their own, you can’t substitute green kiwis and expect the same result (I’d guess that you could make a great version with green kiwis too, but you’d probably want to play with the balance of flavours). Golden kiwis also lack the enzyme actinidin, which is a VERY important distinction. Actinidin is a protease (an enzyme that digests proteins), meaning that a marinade made with green kiwis will actually break down meat. Basically, a golden kiwi marinade will taste great, while a green kiwi marinade will make meat paste.
Now, as for what golden kiwis ARE – namely delicious and healthy. As I’ve already mentioned, they’re a unique fruit with a flavour that’s distinct from the (also delicious) Hayward green kiwi that’s commonly found on the market. They also contain vitamin E, a LOT of vitamin C, and a respectable amount of potassium and fiber. New Zealand-raised SunGold kiwis, which are produced by Zespri Kiwifruit, are increasingly easy to find at most grocery stores, and are in season between May and October. They’re also really easy to work with. The skin is smooth, and you can actually eat it if you want to, but if you don’t, they’re a snap to prepare. Just cut them in half, and scoop them out with a spoon. From there, you can eat them as is, or incorporate them into a meal. There’s nothing wrong with eating the seeds, though I do leave them out of purees as they can contribute a slightly bitter taste when crushed.
If you’ver never cooked with fish cheeks before, you really need to give them a try. They might sound a little odd, but they’re widely considered the best piece of meat on the entire fish. Because of their small size and delicate texture, they also tend to cook up a lot like scallops. In fact, if you can’t get good fish cheeks, I’d recommend making this with seared scallops instead. Cod cheeks would make a good replacement too, if you can get them.
There’s not a whole lot to working with fish cheeks. In some cases, there will be a bit of tough white membrane clinging to the outside of the pieces. If this is the case, simply use a small and very sharp knife to cut this part away.
Making the Tartare
While the taste of the tartare is important, it’s also a very textural thing, so you’re going to want to prep it with a little care. The avocado is best if it’s a little on the firm side – too ripe and it will get mushy when mixed with the other ingredients. As for the macadamias, I found that a food processor did the best job of breaking them down into small pieces without reducing them to a crumb. I also use lightly salted macadamias, because a) they’re easier to find, and b) they add needed salt to the tartare anyway. If you use unsalted macadamias, make sure to salt the final mixture to taste.
You can get away with making this a little while in advance, as the oil and added marinade will keep the avocados from oxidizing for a while, but they may start to colour a little if left too long.
There are several varieties of black rice, each with slightly different preparation techniques – if you have a rice cooker, I’ve found that you can generally cook Chinese black rice like a white rice (add a 10 minute soak and rinse) and Thai black rice like a brown rice. Regardless, make sure you follow the instructions on the package for the variety you’re using.
TIP: If you do want to reduce the fat/calorie count, reduce the amount of tartare you make, or serve a little bit less of it. In fact, you could very easily cook a little more fish and serve this to six or even eight people as a light meal. As-is, it would also make an amazing and elegant little appetizer for 8-10.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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Golden kiwis are used to great effect in this dish of seared halibut cheeks with a sweet/savoury puree, avocado and macadamia tartare, and black rice.
- 450 g halibut cheeks (see note)
- 3/4 cup black rice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 golden kiwis
- 1 medium shallot peeled, ends discarded
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 tsp ginger juice (from about 1 tbsp of grated ginger)
- 1 tsp lemon juice preferably fresh-squeezed
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/8 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 golden kiwis peeled and diced
- 1 medium avocado diced
- 1 large shallot finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
- 130 g macadamias (lightly salted) chopped or very coarsely ground (a little under 1 cup)
- 3-4 stems chives chopped, plus a few to garnish
- 1.5 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
Trim and clinging tough bits of membrane from the halibut cheeks and set aside.
Prepare the black rice as instructed on the packaging (see note below). Let it cook while you marinade the fish.
Cut the golden kiwis in half and use a spoon to scoop the the flesh away from the skins. If you work carefully, you should be able to get almost all of the fruit out. Cut out and discard the black seeds (they can be bitter when pureed).
Combine the kiwis, shallot, wine, salt, ginger juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, turmeric, and salt in a small food processor (or use an immersion blender) to form a puree. Stir in the olive oil and sesame oil and set aside.
30 minutes before you're ready to cook the fish (which will depend on when your rice is ready), combine the halibut with about half of the marinade and set aside. Put the rest of the marinade in the fridge.
Combine all of the tartare ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently. Add 1 tbsp of the marinade and continue to mix. The ingredients should be well-combined, but take care not to smash the avocado.
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high in a well-seasoned or good non-stick pan. Add a few pieces of halibut to the pan, leaving enough room to avoid crowding them. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the fish is well-seared, then turn and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Note that the cooking time will vary depending on the size of the halibut cheeks. Repeat with remaining cheeks, adding a little extra oil to the pan if necessary. Set the cooked fish aside.
Add a splash of water or white wine to the hot pan to deglaze it. Pour the liquid over the halibut cheeks and set aside.
Serve a portion of black rice, topped with tartare, and finished with one or two halibut cheeks. Garnish with chives, and a generous spoonful of the reserved unused marinade.
There are several varieties of black rice, each with slightly different preparation techniques - if you have a rice cooker, I've found that you can generally cook Chinese black rice like a white rice (add a 10 minute soak and rinse) and Thai black rice like a brown rice. Regardless, make sure you follow the instructions on the package for the variety you're using.
Golden kiwis are a distinct variety of kiwi with a unique flavour. They also lack the protein-digesting enzymes found in green kiwis. Don't substitute green for golden, as you'll end up with a different flavour - not to mention pre-digested fish!