Umami Recipes
Umami Recipes


Halibut Cheeks with Saffron Tomato Sauce

4 servings


20 minutes

active time

45 minutes

total time


1 pound fish cheeks


Lemon juice ((optional))

3 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or other high smoke point oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow or white onion, (minced)

2 cloves garlic, (minced)

1/2 cup vermouth

A big pinch of saffron

2 cups fire-roasted tomato puree ((or regular tomato puree))

1/2 teaspoon cayenne


3 tablespoons minced parsley


Salt the halibut cheeks and set them aside on a cutting board or plate. If you want, squeeze some lemon juice over them.

This would be the moment you'd made polenta, grits or boil the water for pasta. If you are making polenta, you can make it while the sauce is cooking. When it's ready, just put a lid on the pot you cooked the polenta in and set it over low heat on a weak burner. It will be fine.

Make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the onion and sauté until completely translucent, with a little browning around the edges. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Pour in the vermouth and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Crumble the saffron into the pan. Let this come to a boil, then add the tomato puree and cayenne. Stir well and taste for salt, adding if needed. Let this simmer until it is the consistency you want. I like this dish over grits or polenta, so I want the sauce a touch thinner than a regular spaghetti sauce. Once it's there, sprinkle the parsley on top and turn the heat to very low.

Get another pan hot, then add the oil. Pat the halibut cheeks dry as the oil warms. When it's hot, as in when you can see the slightest wisp of smoke, set the cheeks flat side down in the pan -- this is the side that used to have skin on it. The moment you set them in the pan, give the pan a little jiggle so they don't fuse to the metal.

Let the cheeks sear this way for 2 to 3 minutes. While this is happening, spoon the hot oil over the surface of the cheeks until they are opaque. At some point around 2 to 3 minutes, use a spatula to try to lift the cheeks off the pan. If they come free, they are ready. If they are horribly stuck, give them another minute. If somewhere in between, it's your call: Leave them longer and have slightly overdone fish with a pretty crust, or use the spatula to forcibly remove them and have a marred crust but tastier meat.

Either way, give the sauce a stir and spoon some in everyone's bowls with the starch of your choice. Top with the cheeks.


Serving Size



330 kcal

Total Fat

20 g

Saturated Fat

2 g

Unsaturated Fat


Trans Fat



28 mg


60 mg

Total Carbohydrate

16 g

Dietary Fiber

3 g

Total Sugars

8 g


19 g

4 servings


20 minutes

active time

45 minutes

total time
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