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Recipe categories: Fish and shellfish, Grilled, Healthy eating, Main courses | All categories

Grilled halibut soft tacos with lime-garlic vinaigrette

Grilled halibut soft tacos with lime-garlic vinaigrette
Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

The hot plate is grimy. Someone swiped your hard-boiled eggs from the mini-fridge. You love Outkast, but you can't go to sleep to it. It's time to move out of the dorm.

Oh, brave young homesteader. You are not a newlywed, and no one has yet showered you with Cuisinarts, cookbooks or china. You can make a sandwich or a salad, but that's about it.

That's the situation my son recently found himself in. He's a sophomore at USC, living in an apartment off-campus with two roommates. They love to eat, and have palates more worldly than mine was when I was in college.

"Get a grill pan," I told him. "It's like grilling outside; you even get nice grill marks."

He and his roommates loved the idea. But they needed recipes. And they needed me to walk them through it all.

Before you start cooking, I told them, it's always a good idea to read a recipe all the way through. Then make your shopping list. You can buy everything you need at the supermarket or Trader Joe's.

The flank steak salad is much easier than it looks. Start with the marinade, a kind of yummy, pre-grill bath, which will help ensure a juicy and fragrant outcome. The pungent flavors of chile, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and citrus permeate the meat as it sits in the marinade. Be careful when handling the jalapeno, though -- touch your eye after cutting one, and you'll be sorry. Especially if you wear contacts. Best to either wear disposable thin latex gloves or use a paper towel to handle them. Next you'll make your dressing, grill the asparagus and steak, and finally assemble the salad. The results will be elegant enough to impress a tenured professor.

On to the sandwich. Who needs a panini press when you have your trusty grill pan?

Cut focaccia rolls in half, lightly grill them, then layer the bottom half with goat cheese, roasted red pepper (you can find terrific pre-roasted ones in jars), fresh basil leaves and caper mayonnaise. Put the top on and weigh them down with your least favorite huge textbook. It's a win/win situation; the sandwich is delicious, and if you're cooking with calculus, you really can't be studying it.

Finally, we have grilled fish tacos that are so much cooler than what you find at the stand in the minimall. Meaty halibut is simply brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper before it's grilled. Into warm corn tortillas it goes, with lime-garlic salsa and lots of shredded cabbage. Try not to eat all of the tacos before company arrives.

Cooking with a grill pan is fast and straightforward. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be hooked. We recommend a cast iron grill pan (see sidebar). They're cheap and they last forever. But any grill pan will work. Just remember to season cast iron pans before the first use.

To start, heat the pan on medium-high heat. Wait two or three minutes and flick a drop of water on it; if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough to begin grilling. Usually you'll have some smoke. If you have no ventilation over your stove, you may want to set up a fan and open a window.

After cooking, you'll want to clean your grill pan while still respecting the patina of oil it is acquiring. Wash in hot water with just a drop of soap, and scrub off any stubborn bits of meat with a stiff brush. Dry immediately with a towel. Store pan without anything on top of it; otherwise the oil may take on an unwelcome scent.

Master these recipes and you'll soon have your own ideas. You'll be grilling salmon or sausages, slicing up zucchini and eggplant and tossing them on. And you never know when you'll get a craving for a kebab.

Before you know it, your friends will be lining up at your door.

Times staff writer Cindy Dorn contributed to this report.

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Cooking 101

The essential (but adventurous) college kitchen:

* 1 (10- to 12-inch) well-seasoned ridged iron grill pan

* 1 lid (to fit the grill pan)

* 1 knife (large enough for chopping)

* 1 cutting board

* 1 bowl

* 1 pair of tongs

* 1 big, heavy textbook (double-wrapped in foil)

* Resealable freezer bags, plastic wrap, foil

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Total time: 30 minutes | Serves 4

Lime-garlic vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup minced green onions
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet cherry peppers, assorted colors if possible
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced serrano or jalapeno pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Step 1Combine the garlic, green onions, lime juice, peppers, serrano pepper (if using) and salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk until all ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Step 2Gradually whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette has emulsified. Set aside until ready to serve. Makes 1 cup.

Tacos

  • 4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 to 12 small corn tortillas
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded or sliced very thin
  • Lime-garlic vinaigrette
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves

Step 1Heat the grill pan over medium-high heat. Season the halibut with salt and pepper and lightly brush with olive oil. Grill the fillets on each side for about 3 minutes or until the fish flakes. Time can vary depending on the thickness of the halibut fillets. A general rule of thumb is about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove the fish from the pan and allow to rest for a few minutes. Flake into bite-size pieces.

Step 2Heat the tortillas briefly in an oven (wrapped in foil), over a gas burner or on a cleaned grill pan just until warm, but still soft.

Step 3Sprinkle pieces of halibut onto a warm tortilla, top with shredded cabbage and spoon some lime-garlic vinaigrette over the top. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Fold tortilla in half and eat while still warm.

Each serving:
482 calories; 41 grams protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 54 mg. cholesterol; 639 mg. sodium.
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