2 ratings

Bluefish with Beets and Rhubarb

Cooking Off the Cuff: sweet without sugar; tart without vinegar

Bluefish is a favorite in our house. It combines full flavor with more delicacy than it is given credit for, and it is fished in our Long Island waters. Jackie and I had our first of 2018 on the eve of the summer solstice, at a moment when our local farmers’ market also yielded abundant beets and no-longer-quite-so-abundant rhubarb. Since tart or sweet-tart accompaniments are a fine thing with tolerably fatty fishes, I wondered whether the sweetness of the beets and the tartness of the rhubarb would do the job without the use of sugar or vinegar/citrus.

I wondered too whether I’d be able to attain the texture I was imagining: rhubarb that hadn’t collapsed into a mush, and beets that retained some crunch but were tender enough to make a nice mouthful with the juicy fish. Of the latter I was confident: Years ago I learned that cut-up beets can be sautéed without prior roasting or steaming, and since then I’ve repeatedly used them, jazzed up with vinegar, alongside fish. The open question was the 3/8-inch dice of rhubarb, and a test run in a greased frying pan yielded the pleasantly surprising outcome that just over a minute on the fire would give me the crunchy but cooked rhubarb I was looking for.

A few other ingredients would be needed to round out the flavor: dill because of its Eastern European association with beets; mint as an herb that is marvelous with stronger-flavored fish; and fresh ginger for its own flavor and for heat to balance the sweetness and tartness. It worked as well as I’d hoped, and, although it was devised for fish, the beet-rhubarb mixture would be delicious with grilled or roasted chicken too.

The sauce/accompaniment should be prepared just before you cook the fish: if it sits around, the rhubarb will turn mushy in texture, though the flavor will be fine.


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  • 2 portions fillet of bluefish, skin on (a 5 ounce portion of this substantial fish is ample), or substitute mackerel
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter
  • 3 Ounces rhubarb (preferably 2 thin stalks), ends trimmed
  • A small chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (1 or 2 heaping tsp, depending on how potent the ginger is)
  • 2 Tablespoons white wine
  • 1/3 Cup finely chopped fresh herbs: equal parts dill and mint
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • Olive oil for cooking the fish
  • Water
  • Salt


Run your fingers up and down the flesh side of the fish to check for bones; use tweezers or pliers to pull out any you find. Dry the fish well and keep cold while you make the accompaniment.

Trim and peel the beets. Cut them lengthwise into quarters or sixths depending on size, then crosswise into slices a little more than 1/8 inch thick. In a shallow saucepan or a skillet over medium-low heat, warm the oil or butter, add the beets, sprinkle with salt and, stirring from time to time, cook until crisp-tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the rhubarb, dry it and cut it into 3/8-inch pieces: if the stalks are slim, simply cut crosswise; if thicker, first cut in half lengthwise. Add to the pan along with the grated ginger. Stir for one minute, until the rhubarb is hot but still crunchy (it will soften as the cooking progresses).

Add the wine and boil for 20 or 30 seconds or until it no longer smells raw and harsh. Stir in the herbs and enough water, about 1/4 cup, to create an intense beet-red sauce, then stir in the butter to give it consistency and gloss. Check for salt.

In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Make sure the fish is dry, salt it generously, and cook it skin side down for 4 minutes, until the skin is crisp. Lightly pressing the fish down into the pan will enhance the crispness. Flip the fish and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes (or longer if your fillets are thicker than about an inch); check for doneness by inserting a metal skewer or cake tester into the thickest part of the filet; it should enter the flesh with minimal resistance. Bluefish should be cooked through but must remain juicy.

Reheat the beet-rhubarb mixture and check once more for salt; divide it between two warmed plates and top it with a piece of fish, skin side up.

If corn has arrived in your local market, you might make a few corn pancakes as a side dish.