Chef Virginia Willis is the author of Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’allOkra: A Savor the South Cookbook, and Grits by Short Stack Editions. Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health category and was a finalist for Best American cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She is currently in development with WGBH for a series called Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South to air nationally on public television stations.

Featured Recipe

Pan Seared Alaska Halibut Steaks with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

1 tablespoon mixed white and black peppercorns

Coarse kosher salt

1 tablespoon pure olive oil

4 (4-ounce) Alaska halibut or salmon steaks, cut 1-inch thick

20 cherry tomatoes

1 cup lightly packed whole fresh basil leave

Orange or lemon wedges, for accompaniment


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Crush the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy skillet on a clean work surface or pulse in a spice grinder until just cracked. Set aside. Sift to remove the finest particles of pepper. (They can make the fish far too hot.)

Season both sides of the steak with salt. Rub one side of the steaks with the pepper. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch heavy-duty ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the fish steaks, pepper-side down, and cook, without moving, until a crust has formed, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the steaks and scatter over the tomatoes and basil leaves. Transfer to the oven and cook until the fish is firm, about 4 additional minutes. Remove the skillet to a rack to cool slightly and let the fish set. Serve immediately with orange or lemon wedges on the side.