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Full Moon flair: grilled halibut

Caterers and restaurateurs Brian and Sue Ahern embrace the versatility of fish. Text by Molly Kukachka. Photos by Paulette Phlipot.

Pushing the envelope is what keeps Sue and Brian Ahern, owners of The Full Moon Steakhouse & Catering in Bellevue, loving the chaotic and busy food business. These local food gurus, who met in culinary school in Philadelphia, revel in the fact that there is so much more to food than eating. For them, food evokes emotions and creates fond memories as it is created, cooked and consumed.

After years of practice as private chefs, caterers and restaurant owners, the Aherns push the envelope with flair, whether they are preparing American cuisine, Indian specialties, French pastries or anything in between.

Fish is a favorite choice with these chefs. Whether pan seared, crusted, baked or grilled, it is always a treat. Brian’s forte is the preparation of seafood, something he gained an appreciation for while serving an apprenticeship after culinary school.

Fish is a healthy choice and is generally an easy dish to make; grilling is possibly the simplest method, explained Brian. And, unlike baking, "which is like chemistry," the simplicity of the grill allows room for error and more time for whipping up some complementary sides, such as a mango salsa or possibly a mint-and-olive-oil couscous.

"It is the new chicken," Brian said. "Everyone eats fish." And for those who still have a prejudice for the omega 3 and nutrient-rich food, Brian says, "If you don’t like fish, you have never had good fish." With so many types and endless ways to prepare it, Brian feels it is almost impossible to dislike all fish.

Grabbing a pineapple and peeling it with a few brisk swipes of a knife, Brian expertly transforms the prickly fruit into bite-size cubes in moments. Oranges, cilantro, ginger and jalapeño quickly join the pineapple creating a tasty salsa in a large silver bowl. Next, the chef moves to the grill. After lightly oiling it with extra virgin olive oil, a slab of halibut is laid on the hot slats.

While the fish sizzles, Sue and Brian toss out some hard-earned tips. It doesn’t require $500 skillets or lessons from Wolfgang Puck to be able to create flavorful meals, the creative couple assures novices. True to most everything, practice in the kitchen will determine success.

- "Eat a lot and experiment. Most people who like to cook also like to eat. When eating out, order something new and take the time to savor and analyze the different tastes, textures and smells of the dish. Learn what can be combined to create a tantalizing dish."

- "Use recipes as a starting point and add and subtract ingredients. Cooking solely from a recipe is boring and constricting. Tweaking a recipe provides excitement and the discovery of new tastes."

- "Develop a basic skill set. Imagine doing a cake decorating ‘throw down’ with Bobby Flay. Not ready? Any type of cooking requires practice and study. Cook, read and eat. Learn the lingo, practice different techniques, and sample, sample, sample!"

- "Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is through their mistakes that good cooks learn what will work. Don’t make dishes for the first time when entertaining. Planning to serve an elaborate new recipe for the mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party? Give it one or two goes before the big day."

- "Be organized. Create an orderly process when cooking. With so many things going at once, it is possible that, without organization, something may not turn out as planned. Have a plan of action and know how long each item requires to prepare and cook—and, have a backup plan."

- "Most importantly, have fun! Food is a joy. Cooking should be also. Allow time to enjoy the process of creating a wonderful meal."

__________________________________

Grilled halibut with fruit salsa


Ingredients—serves 4

4 halibut fillets, 6-8 oz each, 1-inch thick with skin removed

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Salsa

1 small, ripe pineapple, diced

2 large navel oranges, sectioned and diced

1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed thoroughly, dried then finely chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 tsp. fresh jalapeno, minced

2 Tbsp. honey

2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Directions

To prepare the salsa, cut the top and bottom off the pineapple. Sit the pineapple upright and remove the skin by using long knife strokes following the shape of the fruit. Cut fruit off from around the core in 1/4-inch slabs. Stack the slabs and dice. Peel the oranges in the same manner. Remove sections with a sharp paring knife by slicing between the membranes and popping the segments out into a bowl. Dice. Place fruit, ginger, cilantro and jalapeno into a bowl. In another bowl, dissolve the honey into the vinegar then toss with the fruit mixture, set aside. Drizzle the halibut with the oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on a hot, clean, oiled grilled for 3 to 4 minutes each side or until fish starts to flake. Do not overcook! Remove halibut to plate and spoon the salsa over the top. Serve with a garnish of an orange circle and a sprig of cilantro. Wine-pairing recommendation: Sauvignon Blanc—it is light and bright and complements the richness of the fish.