Claire remembered a gift from Patrick the ferryman a few weeks earlier – a fillet of ‘striper’ (as striped bass is called in these parts) she had put in the freezer. She seasoned it with salt and oregano. She found a can of tomatillos and puréed them with a half can of chipotle chiles. She poured the resulting salsa over the fish and grated some feta cheese on top. – Chapter 19, “The Luckiest Man on the Planet”

Claire made the dish with canned tomatillos and frozen bass (she was upset), which she cooked in the oven. When Steven makes her dish, he chars the salsa ingredients on the coals and cooks the fish on the grill.

striper cooked

Serves 6 to 8

  • 3 pounds striped bass, with skin on, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or as needed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 6–8 lime wedges for serving
  • Tomatillo-chipotle salsa, recipe follows
  • 2 ounces feta cheese or cotija cheese, coarsely grated or crumbled
  • Cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Set up grill for direct grilling and preheatto medium-high. Brush and generously oil the grill grate.

2. Make 2 or 3 shallow slits in the skin side of each piece of fish. Generously season both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano and arrange in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice, turning to coat both sides.

3. Grill fish until browned and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Start grilling the fish skin-side down. Give each piece a quarter turn after 2 minutes to lay on crosshatch of grill marks.

4. To serve, spoon the salsa on a platter or plates and place the fish on top (or spoon the salsa over the fish), serving extra salsa in a bowl on the side. Sprinkle each fish fillet with a little cheese and top with cilantro sprigs. Serve at once with lime wedges.

Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

  • 5 fresh tomatillos, husks removed
  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, skin on
  • 1 poblano chili
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and skewered on a small bamboo skewer
  • 2 canned chipotle peppers with 2 tablespoons can juices, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. For ember-charred salsa, light natural lump charcoal in a chimney starter. When the coals are lit and glowing orange (this will take 15 to 20 minutes), pour them over the bottom of the grill and rake out into an even layer. Arrange the tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, and poblano directly on the coals until charred black on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side, 6 to 10 minutes in all (the onion will take the longest). Wrap garlic loosely in foil and roast it for the same time on the embers (the foil keeps it from burning). Transfer charred vegetables to a heatproof pan and let cool. Scrape off the black charred skin (it’s okay to leave a little for color and character). Cut the veggies in half. Scrape the seeds out of the poblano.

2. Alternatively, for grilled salsa, set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Grill tomatillos, tomatoes, quartered onions, and garlic until browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, 6 to 10 minutes in all. (Grill the garlic off to one side where the fire is a little cooler.) Let cool to room temperature, then cut veggies in half and seed the poblano.

3. Purée the charred or grilled vegetables, chipotle peppers and juices, and cilantro in a food processor. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste; the salsa should be highly seasoned. If too thick, add a little water. The salsa can be prepared several hours ahead.

This recipe was originally published with the article, Q&A with Food Writer Turned Novelist Steven Raichlen.