Italian Salsa Verde with Halibut

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Long before I ever cooked Mexican food, the only salsa verde I knew was Italian salsa verde — and since I’ve been cooking Mexican food for close to 20 years, that goes back a ways.

Salsa verde just means “green sauce,” and that is what this is: A mix of chopped green herbs, mostly parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, and, sometimes, things like mashed anchovies, capers, garlic, black pepper and red pepper flakes.

Italian salsa verde served with saffron brined halibut
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Ever since I learned how to make this Italian salsa verde recipe, shortly after I graduated college in the early 1990s, it has been my go-to whenever I want to highlight something delicate, like white-meat poultry or especially fish.

Pretty much every country in Europe has its “green sauce” that is served at room temperature. 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). And I make a German green sauce that I also serve with fish.

These sauces, along with Italian salsa verde, are used very much the same way you would use Argentine chimichurri, to which it is related. Think of it a bit more like a very loose pesto than a Mexican salsa.

You make it either with a lot of chopping, some chopping plus pounding in a big mortar and pestle, or in a food processor. Do not use a blender; the texture will be wrong.

It is great with fish and poultry, yes, but you can also use Italian salsa verde with pasta, or you can add it to risotto at the last minute. It makes a damn good salad dressing, too. I’ve also seen it served with porchetta and steak.

Italian salsa verde with halibut on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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 after it’s been seared.

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. A little fresh oregano is good, too.

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. If you choose to use them, don’t salt your sauce until the end because the anchovies are inherently salty.

One last thing: Italian salsa verde is a good place for that fancy extra virgin olive oil you might have lying around. You’ll taste it in this sauce.

Italian salsa verde with halibut on a plate
5 from 16 votes

Italian Salsa Verde with Halibut

Don't get hung up on the saffron brine for the halibut; it's a cheffy touch I like to do. The salsa verde is the star. Once made, it will keep in the fridge a few days, although the color will fade a bit.
Course: Main Course, Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

HALIBUT

  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • A healthy pinch of saffron
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

SALSA VERDE

  • 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 extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions 

  • 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.
  • Heat the olive oil in a sauté 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 some salsa verde on each person's plate.

Notes

If you don't have halibut, use any large, firm white fish. Note that the prep time does not include brine time.

Variations

  • You can mix and match the green herbs, adding in some celery leaves, fresh oregano, mint, lovage, savory or chervil in for part of the parsley.
  • Grating the zest of the lemon and adding that is a nice touch. 
  • Finely chopped black olives can be a welcome addition. 
  • If you have hot, fresh chiles, like Thai or pequins, they can sub in for the red pepper flakes. 

Nutrition

Calories: 505kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 86mg | Sodium: 261mg | Potassium: 899mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 2088IU | Vitamin C: 32mg | Calcium: 56mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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26 Comments

  1. Hi Hank, hoping to try this on the weekend. Wondering if you’re talking about whole fresh anchovies, or anchovy filets like you get in oil and that you’d (I, anyway) mash into Ceaser Salad dressing.

  2. I have made this recipe several times now. I have used black sea bass, haddock , and cod, but only recently have I had a chance to use halibut (it was fresh and reasonably priced at my fish guy’s shop). It was fabulous with all the above species. The Salsa verde is life changing. SO good! You will want to slop it up on bread or your finger if there is any left.

  3. I am a new subscriber and just tried this halibut dish last night. Absolutely wonderful dish. The salsa verde has amazing flavours. Who would have thought to bring anchovy and Hali together. I added my own little addition of some small Sized pasta into the verde with a few extra garlic cloves.

    Family loved it. Living on the west coast and being a fisherman myself we will be enjoying this recipe for years to come. Five stars!!

  4. Halibut was beautiful and tasted great! The sauce complemented the fish very well, making the meal exceptional and enhancing the cook’s standing with the spouse.

  5. Such a fun eating experience. My family loved this. They might not have tried it if they saw me making anchovy slurry… But they didn’t. I highly recommend this. I would make this with anything from Northern Pike to Lingcod. Great stuff Hank!

  6. We have lots of ling cod in our freezer from a fishing trip to Canada and I tried it with this recipe and I have to say, it was the best thing I’ve ever done with a white fish. I did find that I had to flip the fish to get it cooked all the way through and then both sides had that nice crust. Perhaps the fish was too thick? This is going to be a regular at our dinner table. Thanks!

  7. I just made this for dinner tonight and it’s amazing! I was missing the anchovies, but it didn’t matter, we scarfed it down. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

  8. Hmmmn.. Halibut in Italian salsa is to die for! I love the texture and the contrast of this dish! Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  9. Hi Hank, thanks for the tip, but unfortunately, that wasn’t it, as I used fresh lemon juice. I’m thinking now that maybe I just mashed everything too much and should have just more gently mixed in the herbs instead of mashing them….? I’ll try it again, cuz the taste was really delisch!

  10. Hank, I love your posts (and Holly’s photos!). You said that reeling in a 3 lb. weight from 300 feet down “ain’t fun”. Pardon me for editorializing, but could you have possibly meant it “aint easy”? ‘Cuz fishing for halibut sure sounds like fun to me!

  11. Kelly: Not spending any time in Anchorage. I fly into Juneau and get on a boat and head north from there. Crossing my fingers for a big ‘but…

  12. Going to try this with the Pacific Halibut we just caught in Homer! Hank, where are you staying while you are visiting Alaska? Any food plans in Anchorage?

  13. Marsha: Did you use vinegar instead of lemon juice? That would turn the salsa drab green. If you do use vinegar, you need to add it *right* before you serve it.

  14. Yummmm. Made this tonight with some Atlantic Wolffish filets. The filets from the halibuts being caught here at the moment are still a bit too thin for this. The fish out of the saffron brine was very tasty and this way of cooking fish by basting the top with oil came out perfect! My only problem was that the pesto turned a sort of drab green instead of being bright parsley green. Still tasted great, I liked the small hint of anchovy in there, but is there a trick to keep it looking so green? I made it about an hour before using. Good things come to those who wait – good luck on your next halibut hunt.

  15. Hank,

    I always thought to catch pacific halibut you needed to be out in a boat with 3-5lbs balls and the right drift, etc.etc., but after years of fishing as a surf caster off beaches have learned that at the right time of year with the right lures or bait, pacific halibut can be taken in very shallow water. Hands down one of the tastiest fish in the sea! Glad you finally caught one and think you made the right choice to let it keep growing. Good Karma for next time!

  16. Salsa verde looks so good, must try it; but can’t get halibut. But that probably will go w/ whatever I choose. I just made green chili (kind of out of season; but I had a hankering to try it and it was great). I know I can be creative w/ how I use the salsa verde and whatever I come up with should work…I’m so into green right now; it must be the season.