Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille chef shares favorite striped bass recipe
If anyone knows fish, it's Luke Wholey, owner and head chef of Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
Wholey, 34, grew up working in the kitchen of the iconic fish market that bears his family's name just a block away on Penn Avenue.
“I've been cooking since I was a little kid,” says Wholey, who recalls frying cod for Wholey's famous sandwiches when he was just 10. He also developed an interest in catching fish, eventually leaving Pittsburgh to guide king salmon and trout fishing expeditions in Alaska's Togiak River in the Bristol Bay. When he moved back to his hometown a decade ago, Wholey brought a bit of Alaska with him, by setting up a cart that served grilled salmon in front of his father's market.
Three years later, he opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant with 130 seats and a menu largely devoted to fish and seafood. Besides his original grilled salmon, Wholey cooks with Dutch Harbor Alaskan king crab legs, halibut, Baja shrimp, ahi tuna, crab cakes, cod, lobster, scallops, and whatever is the catch of the day. Sushi and sashimi also are offered.
A recent special featured pan-seared striped bass served with champagne chimichurri sauce, couscous and warm fennel slaw. Wholey cut the fillets from a 10-pound striper harvested from the Chesapeake Bay.
“I love the meaty texture of striped bass. It's a really dense protein,” he says, noting that sourcing is important when it comes to texture and taste. “This one from the Chesapeake was probably foraging on blue crabs and menhaden.”
Lunch features include salmon-beet salad, seafood trio of jumbo scallops, shrimp and escolar, Steel City lobster roll and blackened catfish sandwich. Dinner starters include mahi mahi tacos, shrimp and lobster pizza and lobster-bisque fries, while entrees range from hot pepper-crusted ahi tuna to grilled halibut to Wholey's personal favorite — swordfish steak topped with sautéed colossal crab. Carnivores can choose filet mignon or a filet-seafood combo.
Wholey's décor has a piscatorial theme, with a colorful mural of an octopus on one wall, and mounts of a Kinzua Reservoir tiger muskie, Raystown Lake striped bass, and Oregon Inlet marlin above the bar.
With many home cooks focusing on fish during Lent, Wholey advises buying what's super fresh and keeping preparation simple. “When I'm cooking for myself, I'll often use just salt and pepper and fresh lemon,” he says. “I tell people, don't overdo the seasoning.”
Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Champagne-Chimichurri Striped Bass with Warm Fennel Slaw and Couscous
This is one of chef Luke Wholey's favorite recipes. Jasmine rice can be substituted for couscous (pearl pasta).
Yield: 4 servings
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, minced, stems removed
1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro, minced, stems removed
1 small shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1⁄4 red pepper
1⁄2 seeded jalapeño, minced (optional)
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 1 lemon
1⁄4 cup champagne vinegar
1⁄8 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Add ingredients, consecutively, to mixing bowl and stir to combine. Once complete, refrigerate, allowing the mixture to chill for at least 20 minutes.
3 medium fennel bulbs, stems & fronds removed
2 cups red cabbage
1⁄4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄8 teaspoon sugar or to taste
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Cut each of the fennel bulbs once lengthwise and finely chop the bulbs into ¼-inch strips. Chop the cabbage into strips. Add fennel, cabbage, rice wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil to a medium-size mixing bowl and toss. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.
Striped Bass and Slaw
4 6-ounce striped bass fillets
4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, separated
Chilled fennel slaw
Kosher salt and pepper
Rinse bass filets under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Once dry, generously season the fillets, top and bottom, with kosher salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch pan on medium heat and add 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Allow oil to heat for 20 seconds and add the bass fillets, flesh side down. Sear fillets for at least 2 to 3 minutes or until the bass has achieved a bronze crust. Flip fillets, skin side down, to finish. If the fillets vary in thickness, use a thermometer to determine when the fillets have reached 145 degrees. While fillets are finishing, heat another 12-inch pan to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Add slaw and toss gently for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Let slaw rest until the bass fillets have reached desired temperature.
Couscous (pearl pasta)
1 cup couscous
1½ cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon salt
In medium saucepan, bring stock and salt to boil. Add couscous, reduce heat to bring to simmer, and cook, covered, until water is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and let stand, covered, about 3 minutes. Fluff with fork.
Place 1⁄2 cup rice on each plate and spoon one-quarter portion of slaw onto rice. Place a bass fillet on the slaw, then top the fillet with a generous portion of chimichurri. Add salt and pepper to taste.