Arctic Char is a new fish to me. I have heard about it a lot lately on cooking shows, like Hell’s Kitchen, but I had never had it before or even seen it at my local fish counter. This past week while I was shopping at Whole Foods, I found fresh Arctic Char and was encouraged by the gentleman at the counter to give it a try.
Arctic Char has a flavor similar to salmon and rainbow trout and is said to be sustainably farmed making it an “Earth-friendly” alternative to salmon. Arctic Char has a flavor and texture very similar to salmon – so this fish can be substituted anywhere you might otherwise use salmon and vice versa. I prepared ours over pan roasted asparagus and a sweet and sour red bell pepper sauce. The fish was amazing.
Most often, fresh fish comes already cut into fillets and de-boned but it’s always a good idea to just check for any residual bones and remove them prior to cooking. I find it easiest to do this while the fillet is still whole. This whole filet was just over one pound of skin-on Arctic Char.
One small section still had some bones, they are tiny and flexible and come out quite easily with a pair of kitchen tweezers I use for just cooking.
In a couple of minutes, all the remaining bones are out with very little effort.
Now I cut the fish into three portions and then trim off the edges of the fillet so that each fillet is of equal size and thickness. This step ensures each piece cooks through in the same amount of time. I take the scraps I’ve removed and cook them off in the pan as well. My husband will pick at these bits of fish as I’m making dinner but our cat is always quite happy for these fish scraps, too.
Since we’re cooking the fish with the skin on, I score the skin about every half-inch or so. Then I season both sides with salt and ground black pepper. When I season the skin side, I bend the fish to open the score marks and then make sure to season the flesh in between each one. I think this really helps get the flavor into the fish as it cooks. If you were adding fresh herbs, you would add them to the score marks as well.
With the red pepper sauce, this fish needs little more than a little squeeze of fresh lemon.
Arctic Char with Sweet and Sour Pepper Sauce
Arctic Char has a flavor similar to salmon and rainbow trout and is said to be sustainably farmed making it an "Earth-friendly" alternative to salmon. Arctic Char has a flavor and texture very similar to salmon - so this fish can be substituted anywhere you might otherwise use salmon and vice versa. I prepared ours over pan roasted asparagus and a sweet and sour red bell pepper sauce. The fish was amazing.
- 1 lb Arctic Char whole fillet or smaller 5-ounce portions
- 2 Red Bell Peppers
- 2 Shallots
- 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 star anise (optional)
- 2 Tbs Olive Oil
- Ground black pepper
- Fresh Basil – 1 large sprig or two smaller ones
Directions for the Sauce:
- Julienne the bell peppers and shallots.
- Heat olive oil in a hot pan, add the peppers and shallots, along with a pinch of salt and ground black pepper. Stir well and cook for about 3 minutes or until the peppers soften.
- Add the whole basil and white wine vinegar.Reduce for a few moments over moderate heat until liquid absorbed. Add enough water to your pan to cover the peppers about midway. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until liquid is concentrated and reduced by about half.
- Carefully add the hot peppers and liquid into the blender. Be sure to seal the lid of the blender. Puree until smooth. [See Notes]
- Taste and adjust seasonings (sugar or vinegar) to a balance you enjoy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Directions For the Fish:
- Lay the fish using a cutting board flesh side up. With clean hands, run your fingers up and down the length of the fillet feeling for small bones. If any bones are detected, remove them with a pair of kitchen tweezers. Trim up the edges of the fish so it is roughly the same thickness all the way through. Slice the whole fillet into 3 equal portions.
- Now turn the fish over on the cutting board so the skin side is up. With a sharp knife, carefully score the fish every half inch across the length of the filet. Season with salt and pepper onto the skin and inside each of the scores. Repeat with the flesh side of the fillet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Massage the oil into the fish.
- Heat extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan and add the fish, skin-side down. Hold the fish down with the fingers for half a minute to prevent curling. Ninety percent of the cooking will take place with the skin side down. After about 3-4 minutes, the skin should be crisp and you can see on the side of the fillet that the flesh is turning opaque. Turn the fish over and cook just until fish is cooked through but still moist and juicy in the center, about 2 minutes longer.
Plating and Serving Instructions:
Pour the sauce onto a rimmed plate or shallow wide bowl to secure the sauce – fill the bottom of the plate. Add cooked Arctic Char, skin side up. Drizzle a little olive oil onto the pepper sauce circling the fish. Garnish with some fresh basil (optional).
If you'd like to have a mix of sweet and sour peppers instead of a puree, skip the puree and plate then as julienned vegetables. Both are very tasty.