Italian salsa verde is my go-to recipe when I want to highlight something delicate, like white-meat poultry or especially fish.
What is Italian salsa verde? It’s not like Mexican salsa. It’s an herby, tart, and luxuriously loose fresh sauce, a lot like Argentine chimichurri, to which it is related. The Italian version relies on parsley, among other herbs, as well as capers, often shallot, and a touch of mustard to add zip.
Pretty much ever country in Europe has its “green sauce.” You are likely familiar with the Provencal and Italian pesto or pistou. I have lots of variations on this classic here on this site (Scroll down for them). I also make a German green sauce that I also serve with fish.
You can also use Italian salsa verde with pasta, or you can add it to risotto at the last minute.
I am betting you’ve noticed that the fish in these pictures is yellow. That’s because I brined it with saffron, one of my favorite spices. Doing this not only colors the fish yellow, you get that grassy aroma of saffron along with it, even with seared halibut.
Any fish you have will work here, and I am fond of the combination of Italian salsa verde and salmon. Chicken, pheasant, quail or turkey are good choices, too.
As for the salsa verde, you can freestyle a bit here with the herbs. You want it to be mostly parsley, but any combination of nice herbs will work. Other good alternatives would be chervil, lovage, a little mint is nice, as is a little fresh thyme. Avoid cilantro here. Celery leaves are good though, as is savory.
And if you think this will be icky-fishy because of the anchovies, you’d be wrong. You don’t taste them, but they add a hit of umami-savoriness that really ties things together.
One last thing: This is a good place for that fancy olive oil you might have lying around. You’ll taste it in this sauce.
I love the color contrast you get with the saffron brine and the vivid green of the salsa verde. Served with some crusty bread, it makes a gorgeous meal for late spring or summer. Brining the halibut will give you a little wiggle room in terms of cooking it -- halibut is normally a little difficult to cook because it is so lean. Adding saffron to the brine adds a little flavor and a visual punch. You can skip the saffron if you want. The salsa verde is an all-purpose Italian sauce I've seen used with chicken, rabbit and pork, and when made with red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, with lamb and beef. It's a little like Argentine chimichurri.
- 1 quart water
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- A healthy pinch of saffron
- 4 halibut fillets, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 5 anchovies (if in salt, rinse briefly)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups chopped parsley
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon chives or garlic chives, minced
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Bring the salt and water to a simmer and crumble in the saffron. Stir, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let this come to room temperature, which can take a couple hours, or speed the process by putting the pot in a large pot that has ice in it. Once the saffron brine is at least at room temperature, if not cooler, submerge the halibut in it and brine in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to five hours.
- Meanwhile, make the salsa verde. Put the anchovies, mustard and lemon juice in a bowl and mash it all together until the anchovies are basically a slurry or paste. Add the parsley, garlic, chives, capers and red pepper flakes and mix well. Mixing all the while, slowly pour in the olive oil until the sauce comes together. It should look like a very loose pesto or a thick chimichurri. Add salt and black pepper to taste, cover and leave at room temperature.
- When the halibut is ready, remove it from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Set the halibut out on a cutting board for 15 to 20 minutes to warm up a bit.
- Spread some salsa verde on everyone's plate.
- Heat the olive oil in a saute pan large enough to fit all the pieces of halibut in one layer. When the oil is hot, pat the halibut dry one more time and lay the pieces in the hot oil. Cook at a medium sizzle (think about how bacon sizzles and you have the right idea) until a nice crust forms on the bottom, about 8 to 10 minutes. Baste the halibut with the hot oil as it cooks for at least 30 seconds, and longer if you want the interior of the fish to be fully cooked through. After about 8 minutes, a crust should form on the bottom of the halibut. Carefully lift the halibut up (assume it will have stuck, although it usually sticks in one one small place, if at all) and place it, crust side up, in the middle of the salsa verde. Serve at once.
If you don't have halibut, use any large, firm white fish. Note that the prep time does not include brine time.