Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa

Full of fresh and seasonal flavors, this crispy pan-seared halibut with tomato basil quinoa is a healthy and naturally gluten free meal that’s easy, quick, and satisfies.

I know it seems random, but it’s been awhile since I shared a dinner recipe. Truth is, I’ve been stuck in a cooking funk the past few months. I’ve spent so much time in the kitchen with recipes like croissants, pavlova, babka, and meringue pies that when dinnertime rolls around, I stick to the usuals or we order take-out. It’s like all of my energy and inspiration goes into baking and dinners end up feeling (and tasting) like a lackluster chore.

But this past weekend, in addition to my raspberry almond crumb cake, I cooked a bright new dish that literally fed our souls. Honestly!!!! Dinner finally tasted GOOD again and I’m thrilled to share this tasty experience with you.

This recipe comes from my friend Jessica’s new cookbook, Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking. Jessica Gavin is a certified culinary scientist. She writes a food blog and I’m constantly fascinated with her content. Everything revolves around the science behind the recipe so we can learn the HOWs and WHYs. I’m passionate about this stuff and I know you appreciate it too. With her approachable writing and delicious recipes, Jessica shows us that a recipe isn’t just a recipe. It’s a delicious scientific experiment. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica in California while I was on my book tour and she’s just the sweetest! I’m thrilled to support her and her new cookbook, a treasure I know you’ll find enjoyable and interesting. There’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Perfect for eager cooks and bakers at any level!

Eager to escape my dinnertime funk, I paged through Jessica’s cookbook and instantly felt inspired. Pan-seared halibut with tomato basil couscous immediately caught my eye, so I made it the next night. I had a bag of quinoa that needed to be used up so I decided to make the simple substitution. Besides that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe. And it TOTALLY delivered.

Here’s why we loved it and why you will too:

  • Packed with simple and seasonal flavors
  • Healthy, wholesome
  • Only serves 2, great for date night
  • One pan meal
  • Versatile– I imagine it would be fantastic with any fish
  • Texture– crispy on the outside and buttery tender inside
  • Very easy
  • Very quick

The pan-frying technique is nothing new, but I often struggle with attaining a super CRISP exterior no matter which protein what I’m cooking. Jessica gives us a lot of tips to help ensure that perfect pan-sear. First, she encourages us to blot the halibut before cooking, drying up any excess moisture. Cooking a wet piece of fish causes excess splattering and steam, which delays the browning. I simply wrapped a paper towel around the filets before cooking.

Additionally, always start with a very hot pan and do not move the fish when it’s cooking. I used a cast iron skillet, but any skillet is great as long as it’s hot. Jessica’s cook’s note teaches us that grapeseed or vegetable oil is preferred for pan-searing. She says, “these oils have a neutral flavor and high smoke point (above 390°F (199°C)) compared to extra virgin olive oil and are therefore safer to use.”

Guide to Perfectly Pan-Seared

  • Blot excess moisture
  • Start with a very hot pan
  • Don’t move the fish
  • Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point

The fish cooks in 8-10 minutes. When it’s done, simply set it aside on a paper-towel lined plate. The paper towel soaks up some excess oil. In the same pan, whip up a bejeweled bed for your crispy halibut. Tomatoes, garlic, and olives deliver big flavor and pair perfectly with fresh basil and lemon. The quinoa is hearty enough to really make this feel like a meal. Honestly, I’m not sure which I loved more: the crispy pan-seared halibut or the tomato basil quinoa!

The halibut has this incredible crunchy crust, but the center is so tender and buttery-smooth. What a contrast!

Start to finish, the entire meal took me 25 minutes to cook. Kevin and I have been craving an exciting homemade meal, preferably one that’s QUICK, and this one hit the spot! Thank you for bringing life back to dinnertime, Jessica!

Look at that crisp!!!

You can check out and order Jessica’s cookbook right here.

Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa


  • 2 8-ounce halibut filets, about 2 inches thick (anywhere around that size is great)
  • 1/2 cup (85g) rinsed uncooked quinoa*
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil*
  • 2 cups (298g) baby tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup (50g) pitted kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/4 cup (36g) minced shallots*
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
  • squeeze of lemon juice + lemon slices for serving


  1. Blot the halibut filets with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as you can. Set aside.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the uncooked quinoa and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. The quinoa will cook and soak up all the water in about 10 minutes. Set cooked quinoa aside.
  3. Season both sides of the halibut filets with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Once the oil is very hot and begins to simmer, carefully add each filet to the pan skin-side-up. Be VERY careful as the oil can splatter. Press down on the fish for a few seconds with a spatula to create direct contact with the oil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the halibut, without moving it, until it is golden brown on the bottom edges, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 140°F (60°C), about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer the fish to a paper-towel lined plate to soak up the excess oil. Drain some of the oil from the skillet, saving about 1-2 Tablespoons inside the skillet for the quinoa mixture.
  5. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, olives, shallots, garlic, red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (I combined all of this together before adding to the skillet, but adding it all directly to the pan works too!) Stir and cook until the tomatoes begin to release some of their juices, about 4 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa, parsley, and basil. Mix to combine. Place the cooked fish on top, squeeze a little lemon juice over everything, turn off the heat, and serve with lemon slices.
  6. Cover any leftovers and store in the refrigerator for a few days. Reheat as desired.

Recipe Notes:

I used quinoa in this recipe, but Jessica's original recipe calls for the same amount of couscous. Cook it according to box directions and instead of the cooked quinoa, add the cooked couscous to the pan in step 5.

Jessica does not suggest using olive oil instead of grapeseed or vegetable oil since its smoke point isn't as high and therefore isn't as safe to use.

Not a fan of olives? You can leave them out or replace with more tomatoes. Chickpeas would be good too!

I forgot shallots at the store, so I subbed in 2 Tablespoons of green onion. I added the green onion when I stirred in the parsley and basil.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Easy Culinary Science for Better Cooking by Jessica Gavin

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Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa Crispy Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato Basil Quinoa Reviewed by Sup on April 26, 2018 Rating: 5
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