Ray’s Boathouse is one of the treasures of the Seattle area, with its spectacular view over Shilshole Bay and the Puget Sound in Ballard, a half hour northwest of Downtown Seattle. Ray’s is also one of the few places in the world it seems that doesn’t waste a magical setting on a subpar restaurant experience. Ray’s Boathouse is indeed, consistently one of Seattle’s premier dining establishments, and has been since 1973 (beforehand it was a coffee shop and a casual fried seafood joint).
I always order the exceptional trio of grilled Alaskan king salmon, dungeness crab cakes, and one of the world’s great seafood dishes, the Chatham Straight sablefish in sake kasu. Anything involving Seattle’s Theo Chocolate is a must for dessert.
This being the heart of spring, it’s the to be enjoying fresh strawberries, fresh vibrantly purple rhubarb, and asparagus. It’s even the time of year for thick filets of Alaskan halibut that are perfect for grilling. Now that it’s May, it’s also time for grilling. So, here we have a perfect spring dish that not only is as delicious as what you’ll get at Ray’s Boathouse, but also incorporates a half dozen elements of spring and is far less complex to prepare than Ray’s Boathouse’s sablefish in sake kasu. The dish is not usually found on the restaurant’s menu. It is used by my family all the time though from the 2003 cookbook Ray’s Boathouse: Seafood Secrets of the Pacific Northwest.
Start by marinating the strawberries in the sugar and balsamic, always my duty as a kid. The strawberries should be nice thin slivers, perfect as a garnish to fan over the fish at the end.You can marinate the strawberries all day…or at least for a half hour.
Next, work on the rhubarb compote. For the 3 cups requested of rhubarb, you’ll need roughly 3 large or 4 smaller stalks of rhubarb. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. The fresh ginger is vital to balancing out the sugars that sweeten the rhubarb. The clove of garlic should also be caramelized before combining with the rest of the compote.
This being a compote, it should be part jam, part sauce. The mixture should be thick, but also yielding plenty of sauce while remaining very moist. You don’t want pickled boiled rhubarb with rhubarb juice. Slow stirring over low heat for a half hour or better yet, 45 minutes, does the trick.
In the mean time, grill the halibut how you normally would for a 7-8 ounce fillet, generally 5 minutes per side. The thicker the fish, the better, to keep the juices intact in the center of the flesh, without drying out. Nothing is worse than dried out grilled fish and nothing is better than the pearly white, buttery soft, one tick above medium rare, center of a grilled fish.
I love serving asparagus, preferably grilled but steamed is fine, with this already very spring dish. Serve the compote in the center of the plate with the fish on top of the compote and snipped asparagus spears around the fish on the compote. Then lay the strawberries atop the halibut, getting artistic if you’d like to pretend they’re fish scales…why not?
This would be perfect with a Pacific Northwest pinot noir, its jammy notes complimenting the rhubarb perfectly. Also as with any halibut dish, a great full bodied chardonnay would be terrific, or even a not sweet Washington reisling or an Austrian gruner veltliner. Just be sure those two have good slate notes to them and aren’t of the sugary sweet variety.
Nothing can beat the bounty of spring ingredients and it’s hard to imagine a better restaurant than Ray’s Boathouse in such a majestic setting.