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Grilled Whitefish with Cilantro Pesto

When you fire up the grill this summer, skip the dogs and burgers and give this bright, tangy dish a try.

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When Chef Jeannette sent me this month’s recipe she added an intriguing note: “Try this recipe with barramundi—it’s my new favorite fish! Read about it, and you’ll see why.” How could I resist the challenge?

After I spent an hour or so on the internet, it became abundantly clear that Chef Jeannette was onto something. There’s mad buzz around barramundi, which seems destined to become the “it” fish of the moment. Here’s the what, why, and how.

Barramundi is a type of Australian seabass that eats low on the food chain and is extremely easy and efficient to raise (more on that in a moment). It’s got a flavor comparable to halibut or grouper—often described as clean and buttery. It doesn’t give off a fishy smell when you cook it, and it works perfectly in almost every whitefish recipe.

Plus, it has only 185 calories but packs 34 grams of protein per serving. It’s relatively low in pro-inflammatory omega-6 and relatively high in omega-3, at least compared to other whitefish. In fact, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3—a wonderful metric for a healthy diet—is the ideal 1:1. (The average ratio in the standard American diet is about 16:1 in favor of the pro-inflammatory 6s!)

The man many people credit with raising barramundi awareness is Josh Goldman, the same fellow who helped bring tilapia to America. He’s always been interested in finding healthy, affordable, and sustainable fish, and—according to him (and the company he created, Australis The Better Fish), he found it with the barramundi. Because it’s a really hardy species, it can be farm-raised without any antibiotics, hormones, or chemicals. And did I mention that it tastes fantastic? —Dr. Jonny

Featured ingredient: Macadamia and Pine Nuts

Macadamia nuts were Dr. Atkins’ favorite snack. And it’s easy to understand why he loved them. Not only are they delicious, but they’re stupendously healthy. The oil in macadamia nuts is more than 80 percent monounsaturated, higher than any other nut. Macs also contain calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium; heart-healthy potassium; and a couple of grams of fiber per ounce. And they contain plant sterols such as beta-sitosterol, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol and promote prostate health. They are very high in calories (about 204 per ounce), so if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t just go munching on them out of the jar.

Pine nuts, which also work great in this recipe, have a marvelous taste and mouth feel, and are no slouch when it comes to health benefits. They containa wonderful blend of nutrients, including antioxidants, manganese, potassium, and monounsaturated fat. And they may even help with weight loss. Research shows that pine nuts release large amounts of a hormone called CCK, which is known to suppress appetite. In one study, women who consumed three grams of pinolenic acid from pine nuts before breakfast wound up eating about 1/3 less food.

Notes from The Clean Food Coach

Good choices for sustainable whitefish are green-rated U.S. farmed barramundi, a clean, sweet-flavored fish that holds up on a grill; striped bass; or Pacific halibut. The striped bass and halibut are more strongly flavored than the barramundi, both with a dense, flaky texture.

If you have leftover pesto, it freezes like a dream. Use an ice cube tray for single-serving sizes, or small zip-closure baggies for meal-sized portions. Pesto thaws in just a couple of minutes under warm water, and this version can instantly enliven any simple shrimp or fish dish.



  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (or ½ cup unsalted macadamia nuts)

  • 1 1/2 packed cups fresh cilantro 

  • Juice of 1 lime

  • 1 Tbs. mellow white miso paste

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

  • 1.5 lbs. deboned, skinless white fish fillets


  1. Preheat grill to medium. In food processor, combine pine nuts, cilantro, lime juice, miso, and olive oil, and pulse several times, scraping down the sides as necessary. (Drizzle additional olive oil to thin, if necessary, but pesto should be thick and spreadable.) Season with salt and pepper, pulse again to mix, and set aside.
  2. Season fish with salt and pepper, and grill 6–8 minutes per side (depending on thickness) or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Transfer fillets to serving platter and coat with thick layer of the pesto.

Nutrition Information

  • Calories 350
  • Carbohydrate Content 4 g
  • Cholesterol Content 100 mg
  • Fat Content 21 g
  • Fiber Content 1 g
  • Protein Content 35 g
  • Saturated Fat Content 2.5 g
  • Sodium Content 210 mg
  • Sugar Content 1 g