Halibut puttanesca adds big flavor to mild fish fillets

A mixture of Kalamata olives and capers add pops of savory saltiness to the sauce.

By America’s Test Kitchen

We're always on the lookout for ways to bring bold, exciting flavors to our weeknight dinners. Enter halibut puttanesca, a dish of mild fish simmered in a tomato sauce that's punched up with spicy pepper flakes, garlic, briny olives and capers, and plenty of savory anchovies.

For an easy-to-make version, we skipped pan-searing the fish, which often causes the fragile fillets to stick to the pan and flake apart. Instead we sauteed shallot, garlic, anchovies, oregano and red pepper flakes in the skillet; added canned tomatoes; and then nestled the halibut fillets into the pan of sauce.

Cooking on the stovetop worked, but we found it easier to maintain an even, gentle heat (so as not to overcook the fish) by moving the skillet to the oven. The tomato sauce slowly reduced as it cooked, concentrating its flavor. And this gentle approach made for halibut that not only held its shape but also stayed moist. We also found that other fish varieties such as cod and haddock worked just as well with this forgiving method — as long as the fillets were similarly sized and 1 inch thick.
A mixture of Kalamata olives and capers added pops of savory saltiness to the sauce. As for the anchovies, our tasters clamored for more, so we slowly added them, test by test, until we'd used the whole 2-ounce can. It sounds like a lot — and it is — but the anchovies mellow in the sauce and give it an incredible depth of flavor. A shower of parsley before serving added freshness and color to this bold, simple supper.

Halibut Puttanesca
Serves 4

4 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless center-cut halibut fillets, 1 inch thick

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 shallot, minced

5 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1 (2-ounce) can anchovies, drained and chopped

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1/4 cup capers, rinsed

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle halibut with salt and pepper; set aside. Add oil, shallot, garlic, anchovies, oregano and pepper flakes to a 12-inch oven-safe nonstick skillet and cook over medium-low heat until fragrant and shallot softens, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in tomatoes and their juice, olives and capers. Nestle halibut into sauce and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until fish registers 135 degrees, 13 to 16 minutes.

3. Using a spatula, transfer halibut to a platter. Stir sauce to recombine, then spoon over halibut. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with extra oil. Serve.

Recipe notes: We do not drain the canned tomatoes before adding them to the sauce. One 2-ounce can of anchovies equals roughly 1 1/2 tablespoons once chopped. You can substitute other types of white fish, such as cod, haddock and hake, for the halibut, if desired. Serve with crusty bread.

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