Grilled Cilantro Fish in Coconut Broth

I have a problem buying fish.  Actually, I don’t have a problem buying fish.  I have a problem buying fish that I like.  Most times I buy any old fish, am not happy with it, then forget what kind of fish it was and I end up making the same mistake over and over again.  I think I’ve bought cod three or four times and still can’t make myself remember that I don’t like it.  Or maybe that was haddock.  See what I mean?

In a perfect world, I would have, as Alton Brown says, a fishmonger.  Actually, I probably could have a fishmonger.  The nice folks at Wegman’s and The Fresh Market seem pretty knowledgable about fish.  But since I usually buy my fish frozen, and there doesn’t tend to be a store employee chilling out in the frozen fish case, I’m left to my own devices.  Since I also shop at a couple of different stores and they all package their frozen fish differently, I can’t keep track of what  I’ve bought and liked or not liked.  Geez, it’s a wonder I manage to feed myself at all.

Recently, I decided to give the fish counter at the Asian Market a try.  That would be the H Mart at Rt. 40 and Rolling Road for anyone reading locally who wants to go on a field trip.  They carry several varieties of whole fish that you can have cut to order.  If they have it, they will scale, gut, and fillet it for you.  I can’t say that The Fresh Market does that but I have seen some whole fish being cut down at Wegman’s…more as entertainment than a regular service of the seafood department.  The fish counter at H Mart even has a few tanks with live fish.  The sign said that it was Tilapia that was swimming around.  While that would be some fresh fish, the thought of seeing my dinner plucked out of a tank  and watching as it gets butchered makes me a little uncomfortable.

So anyhow, I found myself at the fish counter looking for either grouper or halibut.  They had both so I had to choose between them.  According to the guys at the counter, the halibut would be moister than the grouper.  Usually, when I don’t like a fish it’s because it’s dense and dry.  So I was hoping that by choosing the moister of the two, I wouldn’t end up with something that would be a disappointment on my plate.  And let me just say that for $12.99 a pound, that halibut was an expensive gamble.

Thankfully, it was gamble that paid off.  The halibut steaks that I cooked up were tender and moist.  The fish had a mild flavor that did not compete with the cilantro, ginger, shallot, chile, or coconut milk.  Actually, it was the perfect canvas to showcase those other flavors.

So now I know that I like halibut.  I know that right now, at this moment.  I just hope I can remember that the next time I’m at the store.

For those of you, like myself, who can’t figure the difference between a mackerel and a monkfish, there’s this guide.  I only stumbled on it when I was googling my research for this post so I can’t vouch for its accuracy in description of the different species it lists or its recommendations for substitutions.  I wonder if somewhere there’s an app for that?

Grilled Cilantro Fish in Coconut Broth

Adapted from Cuisine for Two

BAH Note:  I used halibut instead of grouper.  Instead of fillets, I got halibut steaks at the store.  If you use steaks instead of fillets, watch out for bones…they are everywhere.  I don’t have a lot of confidence in being able to judge when meat or fish is done so for the halibut, I figured it was done when it started to fall apart.  The presentation wasn’t pretty but the fish was perfectly cooked.  If you have a grill, CFT says you can grill the fish over direct heat, covered.

For the Fish:

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • juice of 1 lime (about 1 to 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 2 fresh halibut or grouper fillets

For the Broth:

  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 Vietnamese or Thai chile, seeded and thinly sliced

Place the cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt in a food processor and pulse until it forms a rough paste.  Transfer the paste to a shallow dish, add fish, turn to coat, and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute shallots, ginger, and vegetable oil over medium low heat for approximately 5 minutes until soft.  Add the coconut milk, chicken broth, sugar, fish sauce and sliced chile.  Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the sauce.  Add kosher salt to taste.  Then simmer gently until the sauce is reduced by about half.  If the heat is too high, the sauce will foam up and boil over the sides of the pan.

Lightly coat a grill pan with vegetable oil and heat over medium flame.  Remove the fish from the marinade and place on the prepared grill pan.  Cook for 7 to 10 minutes per side or until the fish flakes easily and is firm.

Ladle broth into two bowls and top with fish.

{printable recipe}

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18 Responses to Grilled Cilantro Fish in Coconut Broth

  1. That’s why I never buy steaks–I’m phobic about bones! Halibut is my favorite fish, hands down.

  2. Emily says:

    No fish with bones of any kind. Period.

    I don’t eat lobster for that reason. they look so miserable in their little tank with their little claws tied up. I can’t pick one! LARRY LIVES!

    • Wendi says:

      Emily, the notion of “picking” your dinner skeeves me out to no end.

      • Emily says:

        Emmie does NOT being up close and personal with her food! The guy who lives next door brought me a flounder I do like flounder. then I found out i was supposed to clean said flounder. I cried so my=uch that george came over and did it for me. Laughing at me all the while. I stuffed him with crab meat and baked him. But the idea I had to cut his little head off with him looking at me with all 3 of his eyes was so unnerving!

        • Wendi says:

          Emily, I know that I would not do well in that situation. I prefer to take possession of my fish dead, gutted, and scaled. Thank you very much.

  3. Jen W. says:

    You had me with the title to this post! Cilantro, fish, coconut broth – I was I had some right now.

    Buying fish confuses me too. I need to take a look at that guide.

  4. Wendi says:

    Wendy Tien, awesome understander of food science, who blogs at The Upstart Kitchen posted this comment about grouper on BAH’s Facebook page:

    “The H Mart fish guys are good. That fish is quite fresh and there’s such a good variety.

    A word about grouper, which you did not choose. It’s not an easy fish to cook. Grouper must be cooked all the way – unlike a lot of fish like salmon, which are best when somewhat under. But once it’s cooked, it tightens up quickly. Unless you’re pretty experienced in fish cookery it can be fairly challenging. Halibut is much more forgiving.”

  5. Tes says:

    I enjoy buying fish though… I like to try new fish I’ve never tried, too.
    This recipe sounds yummy… I have catfish in the freezer… you think it will work with this recipe?

    • Wendi says:

      Tes, I’m not familiar with catfish so I’m not sure how it would work specifically. But generally speaking, I don’t see why you shouldn’t give it a try. Just pay attention that you don’t overcook the fish since a catfish fillet might require less time to become firm and flaky.

  6. Emily says:

    crabs, ok shrimp okx2, fish some ok, lobster if I don’t see its little face ok.

    Spouse grew up in tidewater Va. It doesn’t get more seafood than that. He tells me the story of his grandpap, who worked nights. Grandpap came home from work on Saturday morning, with a bushel of crabs ( live) in the back of the truck. He would then gsend spouse to the store for a bottle of vinegar. Crabs were then dispatched to the pot of Old Bay, vinegar and water with tongs. He says that invariably at least ONE got loose whether by accident or desing no one is sure. As the crab scuttled around the kitchen the kids would all be on the kitchen chairs screaming and cheering on the crab to :”GET” the other kids. Good thing there were 6 chairs cause there were 6 kids!

    Invariably, the crustacean wound up in the pot with his kin when Grams came in to see what was going on because the neighbors could hear the kids screaming!

    this story from the SPouse Collection which is nearly as much fun as the Emmie Collection. Please keep these stories somewhere I fear they will not be kept and will vanish in the shroud of time. too much fun for that!

    • Wendi says:

      Emily, I have memories of crabbing on the Eastern Shore and steaming up the day’s catch. And yes, there are also memories of trying to kick rogue crabs off of my flipflops.

      And when are you going to start blogging with all of these wonderful stories you and the spouse have accumulated?

  7. I loooove Halibut. Always a winner!

  8. Emily says:

    It needs to be soon wendi, it really needs to be soon! I do not want these stories to get away. My brother could care less. My mother won’t go near a computer…..the family dynamic is at work SIGH!

  9. Ingrid says:

    I love Halibut! Can’t go wrong with it! :)

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