End of Summer: Pan-Seared Opah with Corn-Tomato Summer Salad

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

As summer nears its end here in the Pacific Northwest, it's time to get in the last of the season's beautiful bounty like tomatoes, corn, and hot peppers. I love this simple salad made with fresh corn that's gently sauteed, then tossed with juicy heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced hot jalapenos, and finished with a garlic-lime vinaigrette. Adding some peppery arugula adds color and flavor as well, and the warmth of the corn will gently wilt the peppery goodness so it melds in perfectly with the salad.
To go with, a simple pan-seared opah fish. But any white fish will do. By first pan-searing it and then finishing it off in the oven, you ensure a super crispy outside and buttery and flaky inside. Simply perfection, and a wonderful way to say goodbye to the dog days of summer...
Pan-Seared Opah with Corn-Tomato Summer Salad and Garlic-Lime Vinaigrette
opah fillets (boneless and skinless)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 corn, kernels removed (or can substitute 3 cups frozen corn, thawed)
1/2 pint (about 1 cup) heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 handful (about a cup) of fresh arugula
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 limes, juiced

Wash the fish and pat very well with paper towel. Season liberally on both sides with salt and pepper (or to taste). If using one huge piece, then cut off the thinner part because it will cook faster than the thicker one; if using separate fillets the same size, then they will all cook evenly at the same time.
Heat a skillet* on high heat. Make sure your windows are open because it's going to smoke. Once the skillet is very hot (I mean very hot), very carefully add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Carefully add the fish inside and cook, searing both sides 3 minutes each (for a total cooking time in the pan of 6 minutes). Transfer to oven to finish cooking.
Depending on the thickness of the fish, you'll need to finish cooking it in the oven. If you're using a different white fish (like roughy) that is characteristically thinner, you won't even need to finish it off in the oven. Thicker white fish (halibut, sea bass) will need longer time. Other fish like tuna, swordfish, salmon will also need a little longer and depend on thickness. If you keep it in the pan, you will burn both sides; by cooking it in the oven, the heat will encompass the entire fish at once and cook it faster and more evenly with a gentler, less direct heat. Best way to tell if they're done is to look at the side of the fillet. Opah is a very cook-friendly fish because it tells you clearly when it's done -- the pink flesh (when rare) will turn white when it's done! This could be anywhere from 3-10 minutes, so make sure you're paying attention more to the change in color rather than time!
Once fully cooked, simply take the fish out and let it rest while you plate up the salad.
While the fish is finishing in the oven, make the salad.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan, and saute the corn until warmed through and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to a mixing bowl. Add the tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and arugula, and season with salt and pepper to taste. To make the vinaigrette, simply whisk together the lime juice and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until emulsified (thickened). Add the garlic. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss well, careful not to break up the tomatoes and arugula (a spatula and folding technique actually work best for this).
To plate, spoon a generous portion of the salad on the middle of a plate and top with a fillet of the opah fish. Serve immediately.
My notes:
Jalapenos can be hot or not, depending on the amount of heat they received from the sun when ripening on the vine. Best way to determine the level of heat in the pepper you're using is to just taste a small piece. This way you can adjust to your liking if you want to seed it or not. If you want to omit the heat all together, just use a little green bell pepper.

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