Joe Sasto dove head-first into the restaurant industry by mentoring under some of the Bay Area’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs. Early in his career, Sasto found it difficult to get a foot in the door in the culinary industry after forgoing the traditional path of culinary school. Instead, he spent his undergraduate years at University of California at Davis, largely sustained by a driving passion for food. At a young age cooking by his mother’s side, Joe knew that he wanted to become a Chef. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Sasto took some time to travel through Europe. Sasto brought his newfound international inspiration to Quince in San Francisco, where he spent three years at the three-Michelin starred restaurant. Under Chef Michael Tusk, Sasto was trusted to manage the handmade pasta program at Quince, learning the ropes and roots from one of America’s most celebrated Italian-influenced chefs. Later, as Executive Sous Chef at Lazy Bear in San Francisco, Sasto maintained his strong, cultivated relationships with local farmers, showcasing the produce they grow. At both Quince and Lazy Bear, Sasto was an integral member of the team, impacting the rise from one to three-Michelin stars, and one to two-Michelin stars, respectively.

 

You may recognize Joe from his win on The Food Network’s Chopped, and also may have seen him on Bravo’s Top Chef and Top Chef: All Stars. Joe began focusing on pursing his personal goal of opening his own restaurant, traveling the country hosting private events, fine-dining dinner parties, pasta classes, and pop-up feasts. Since the global pandemic began, Chef Joe ceased travel, and has been virtually teaching both public and private livestream pasta lessons weekly.

Featured Recipe

Crispy Fried Alaska Halibut
Ingredients

Halibut:

  • 1-2lbs skinless halibut filet
  • 1c all purpose flour
  • 1c cornstarch
  • 1c (+/-) sparkling ice water 
  • 1tsp fennel pollen or ground fennel seed
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp chile flake or powder
  • 1tb vodka (optional)
  • salt
  • white pepper

Zabaglione:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1tb Sambuca (or sherry wine vinegar)
  • 1tb lemon juice
  • 1tsp sugar
  • salt
  • 1tb chives, slices
  • 1tb parsley, chopped
Directions

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, slowly adding the ice-cold sparkling water. Mix until smooth and the consistency resembles heavy cream.

After the fish has been salted, rested in the fridge for an hour and the batter is mixed, all that is left is to fry! I like to use a large, wide, heavy bottomed pot, and fill it with neutral oil (canola, peanut, vegetable, etc.) about halfway up. As a precaution, never fill your pot to the top, and always leave room for the oil to bubble up. 

Using a food-safe kitchen thermometer, bring the oil up to 370F. I prefer to dip each piece of fish into the batter one by one, lifting gently and allowing excess batter to drip completely, before carefully placing the battered fish into the hot oil. When placing the halibut into the oil, try to hold the fish and drag it back and forth through the oil for a few seconds before releasing it, allowing the batter to set. This will prevent the fish from sinking to the bottom and sticking.

My favorite part about frying fish? The fish tells you when it's done! The batter will be golden and crispy at the same exact time that it takes for the fish to be moist, succulent, and perfectly cooked.

Immediately transfer the fish to a wire rack or paper towel to whisk away any excess oil. I prefer to use a rack, as the excess steam can escape and it prevents the coating from getting soggy. I like to dust some extra fennel and chile flake on top before serving, and garnish with some fresh herbs. A small dash of malt vinegar would be divine as well!

Now, the fish is absolutely heavenly on its own. But, in my opinion, a little dipping sauce to contrast and compliment all of those flavors really rounds out the entire meal. A common dip for fried fish is often a tartar sauce or aioli based dressing, but I find those can be a little heavy of an accoutrement. Instead, I am making a zabaglione. Traditionally served sweet and made with marsala wine, this whipped egg sauce can be the perfect savory accompaniment with just a few changes and adjustments to the classic recipe.

Bringing together this whipped egg dip only takes a few minutes and a few ingredients. First, place all of the ingredients in a heat proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water (creating a “double boiler”). Begin whisking vigorously for 5 to 8 minutes until the eggs are cooked, aerated, and frothy. Remove the bowl from the heat and fold in the herbs. Give the dip one final taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

While I made this dish with halibut, this recipe and technique would lend well to any variety of whitefish from Alaska. Alaska has set the standard for sustainable, and environmentally responsible fisheries. I urge everyone to take care and know where their food comes from, and to support small and local fisherman. Alaska’s waters are managed for protection against overfishing and habitat loss. Because Alaska is proactive in the care for their waters, you can source confidently, knowing that if you #AskForAlaska, you are getting a healthy, sustainable, and superior seafood product.

 

Recipe courtesy Chef Joe Sasto.

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