As our climate changes, so will our diets. Fix’s Climate Future Cookbook introduces you to foods that show what sustainable, equitable, and resilient eating could look like. Do try this at home.

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July 2035

Despite how much times have changed, the one thing wedding guests can still hope for is a halfway decent dinner.

It’s always questionable, though, when the selections are “meat,” “fish,” or “vegetarian.” You never know what you’ll get these days: lab-grown lamb, farm-raised shellfish, seaweed pasta, a plate full of flowers.

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I’ve always been in love with seafood, and I know the selections are slim because so many of my childhood favorites have since gone extinct. But tonight, I took a leap of faith.

When the plates arrived, everyone else at our table had opted for vegetarian. It was wild mushroom risotto, which looked alright, but the fish entree I chose was beautifully fragrant — a perfectly seared filet with a side of black rice mixed with vibrant vegetables.

“Excuse me — what is this?” I asked the waiter.

“Oh, you definitely picked well, miss. That’s the chef’s speciality, pan-seared lionfish and forbidden rice.”

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“Ah, yes, I’ve had lionfish before,” I whispered to my date. “I didn’t know it could look so fancy.” 

“It’s become quite popular,” said the eavesdropping waiter. “It’s actually one of our most requested dishes for summer weddings.”

I dove in. It was just as delicious as it looked: delicate and buttery, like nothing I’d tasted in years. I looked over at the head table, and the bride and groom had already finished more than half of their plates. They had opted for the lionfish, too.

Pan-seared lionfish with forbidden rice on white plate
Tyler Jarvis

Chef Al Massa’s Pan-Seared Lionfish With Forbidden Rice

Yield: 5 servings

Time: 45-50 minutes

Al Massa, executive chef at Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer in Destin, Florida, created this recipe for the 2022 Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Restaurant Week, where it won first place. The recipe went on to take second place in the 2022 Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans on August 6. The recipe accentuates the pan-seared lionfish and forbidden rice with sauteed leeks, tomato confit, and “melted” zucchini and squash, then drizzles it all with shellfish butter sauce. Halibut or snapper would make excellent replacements where lionfish is not available.

* * *


For the lionfish:

  • 5 lionfish filets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of microgreens to garnish (micro-arugula, baby arugula, chive sticks, or tiny basil leaves)

For the leeks:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 leek, sliced, pale portion only
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 ounces white wine

For the tomato confit:

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • ⅓ teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 12 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the zucchini and yellow squash:

  • 2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound shallots, minced
  • 4 ounces garlic, thinly sliced (about 1½ heads of garlic)
  • 1 zucchini, shaved (with a potato peeler)
  • 1 yellow squash, shaved
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the forbidden rice:

  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1 cup forbidden rice (aka black rice)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 ounces sauteed leeks (above)
  • 2 ounces tomato confit (above) 
  • 12 basil leaves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon butter

For the shellfish butter sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • ½ cup clam stock made from fresh clams (or you can substitute clam juice, shellfish stock from shrimp, or fish stock)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1½  tablespoons capers
  • 1½  tablespoons minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, cubed


Make the lionfish: 

  1. Pat filets dry, season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt butter and add olive oil over medium-high heat. 
  3. Place the lionfish filets in the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Flip each filet and cook for 3 minutes, or until crisp and cooked through. (Use a metal spatula to prevent the bottom of the fish from sticking to the pan.)

Make the leeks:

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; add leeks.
  2. Stir in stock, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to low.
  4. Cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes.
  5. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate excess liquid.
  6. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Make the tomato confit:

  1. Arrange the tomatoes and minced garlic in a saucepan, and add thyme sprigs. Drizzle generously with olive oil until the tomatoes are halfway submerged.
  2. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the sugar, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook on high heat until the tomatoes begin to wilt, but not all of them have burst, about 20 minutes.
  4. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Make the zucchini and yellow squash:

  1. Place the olive oil and shallots in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and cook until soft.
  3. Add zucchini and yellow squash, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the zucchini and squash are soft and translucent, but not mushy.
  5. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 2 more minutes.
  6. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Make the forbidden rice:

  1. Add the cold water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the rice and cook until al dente, about 40 minutes, while stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  2. Remove from heat and strain the rice; set aside.
  3. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
  4. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Add the prepared black rice and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the chicken stock while stirring constantly.
  7. Reduce heat to low and keep cooking until stock is completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.The rice should be tender but not mushy.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat, then stir in the leeks, tomato confit (set aside 2 to 3 tomatoes to save for plating), and chopped basil.
  9. Add butter, stir until melted, and keep warm.

Make the shellfish butter sauce:

  1. In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce wine, clam stock, lemon juice and zest, capers, garlic, and black and red pepper until liquid is reduced to about ¼ cup.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the butter, 3 to 4 cubes at a time. Whisk slowly and constantly until the consistency coats the back of a spoon and all butter is incorporated.
  3. Keep warm.

To plate: 

  1. Place a portion of rice-leek-tomato mixture on the plate, just off-center. Use a small measuring cup to make a tight cylinder if desired.
  1. Across from the rice-leek-tomato mixture, place a small pile of zucchini/squash ribbons.
  2. Place the lionfish filet on top of the zucchini and squash.
  3. Place 2 to 3 confit tomatoes equidistant from the rice and fish.
  4. Spoon some of the shellfish butter sauce over the fish and drizzle the plate with the remainder.
  5. Garnish the fish with a pinch of micro-greens or herbs.

Recipe courtesy of Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer

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