Broiled fish, asparagus dish gets kick from pepper sauce

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press

Once spring arrives, eating habits and ingredients change. Out go the comfort-food dinners that include long-cooking roasts, simmering soups and stews. Spring signals the arrival of vegetables that are lighter but equally satisfying.

Asparagus has long been considered a harbinger of spring.

Most of the asparagus in stores now is on the thin side, which makes it ideal for quick cooking. Pairing it with broiled fish makes for a time-saving meal that’s big on flavor. Today’s recipe is adapted from the Food Network Magazine. The original recipe called for grilling red snapper and the asparagus.

I opted for the broiler for both fish and asparagus. Though grilled asparagus is great, the pencil-thin pieces I was working with would have easily fallen through the grill grates. In addition, the time it took to broil both the fish and asparagus was less than the time I’d spend getting the grill fired up.

The Lenten season is a busy time for fish, and through health reports extolling the benefits of fish and seafood abound, consumers still have concerns about consuming them. One concern involves contaminants in both farmed and wild-caught fish. Most of the attention centers on mercury levels.

The Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter addressed the issue in its March newsletter: “Larger and longer-lived fish tend to have higher levels of methylmercury contamination because it accumulates as the fish grows,” it said.

Current levels of methylmercury found in fish are not considered dangerous to most people, but too much exposure over time can have an effect on the brain and nervous system. In particular, overexposure can “negatively affect the brain of a developing fetus,” Tufts said. Still, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are important for growth and development, the newsletter said, so it’s recommended that pregnant women eat low-mercury fish.

To help consumers choose fish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a list of “Best” (eat two or three servings per week) or “Good” (eat one serving per week) choices based on potential mercury levels.

Those in the Best category have the lowest levels of mercury and include Atlantic mackerel, cod, salmon and canned light tuna. Fish with the highest mercury levels include king mackerel, orange roughy, swordfish, tilefish and bigeye tuna.

For this recipe, I used mahi-mahi, which falls in the “good” category. Mahi-mahi is a mild-flavored firm fish with a pinkish hue. The fish holds up well to broiling and, though light-tasting, is quite filling.

Finally, when it comes to shopping for fish, don’t rule out shopping in the frozen fish aisle. Chances are the fish sold frozen was frozen at its freshest not long after it was caught.

Broiled Mahi-mahi With Asparagus and Red Pepper Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

4 sprigs thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, plus more to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 mahi-mahi or red snapper fillets (about 5 to 6 ounces each)

2 bunches thin asparagus, trimmed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the broiler. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, garlic, shallot, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the bell pepper is tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; cook until mostly evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes; discard the thyme. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree; season with salt and pepper and add up to 1 more teaspoon vinegar, if needed.

Place the fish on a sided baking sheet. Rub the fish fillets with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Broil the fish at least 6 inches from the heat source, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus to the same baking sheet opposite the fish; broil 5 minutes. Remove from the broiler.

Spoon the pepper sauce onto plates. Top with the fish and asparagus; sprinkle with parsley.

Adapted from the Food Network Magazine, September 2018 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.