Chef David Buchanan’s sea bass is served with hazelnut pesto, havarti polenta and autumn succotash at Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Chef David Buchanan’s sea bass is served with hazelnut pesto, havarti polenta and autumn succotash at Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Hazelnut pesto from Tulalip Casino pairs perfectly with fish

Grinding the nuts to the right consistency is the key to Blackfish chef David Buchanan’s pesto.

If you think there’s only one way to fix pesto, here’s a surprise.

Most people make it with pine nuts, basil, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. But you make it with just about any kind of nut.

Chef David Buchanan’s pesto is made from hazelnuts, which can be locally sourced from Hazel Blue Acres in Arlington.

Buchanan, chef de cuisine at Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar at Tulalip Resort Casino, said the pesto was the result of a challenge from the restaurant’s executive chef, Perry Mascitti, asking the restaurant’s chefs to come up with a dish using hazelnuts.

Buchanan’s hazelnut pesto is versatile, a complementary addition to halibut, salmon, rockfish or sole.

But for this challenge, he paired it with Chilean sea bass, a fish with high oil content that keeps it moist while cooking. It’s generally available at supermarkets. But if you can’t find it, Buchanan said black cod is a great alternative. The fish can be grilled, sauteed or baked.

What defines any pesto are the kinds of nuts and herbs it’s made with. He said he’s made hazelnut pesto with just basil, or basil, chives and chervil.

“It’s fun playing with all the different versions you can get with pesto,” he said.

Buchanan, 59, attended the New England Culinary Institute and then trained at an upscale Vermont hotel.

Before settling in at Tulalip in 2008, he worked at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bow and was executive chef at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine. Initially, he oversaw the Eagles Buffet at Tulalip, and later was chosen as the chef de cuisine at Blackfish.

For those making the hazelnut pesto for the first time at home, Buchanan has some tips.

“Probably the hardest part is getting the nuts ground correctly,” he said. The next challenge is getting the right mixture of oils added to the ground hazelnuts. It’s important to add the oil slowly.

Don’t use extra-virgin olive oil, he said, because it can have a flavor that competes with the hazelnuts. Instead Buchanan recommends using equal parts olive pomace oil and canola oil, which is “conducive to letting other flavors pop.”

Use the oils to create the consistency you want, chunky with less oil, smoother with more.

The hazelnut pesto definitely adds a “Wow” factor to the dish, especially this time of year, he said. “Hazelnuts are autumn — kind of special.”

There’s one other local feature to this recipe — the hazelnuts.

The nuts used in the dish are from Hazel Blue Acres blueberry and hazelnut farm. Their first 10 acres of hazelnut trees were planted in 2007 and six more acres were added in 2017, said Karen Fuentes, who owns the farm with her husband, Spencer Fuentes.

Tulalip chefs have used the farm’s hazelnuts in recipes during November for the past three years, she said.

In addition to hazelnuts, which sell for $10 a pound, the farm’s store sells salmon, blueberries, ice cream and jams. She also conducts cooking demonstrations on the second Tuesday of each month.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

Chilean sea bass with toasted hazelnut pesto

For the hazelnut pesto:

5 ounces hazelnuts, shelled

½ ounce garlic, minced

3 ounces Parmesan, grated

2 ounces fresh basil leaves

½ ounce fresh chives, chopped

¾ cup pomace olive oil

¾ cup canola oil

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

Pinch sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the hazelnuts in the oven and lightly toast them. Remove from oven and cool at room temperature. Once cool, place in a clean, thin kitchen towel. Wrap them in the towel and briskly rub the nuts together to remove as much of the husk as possible. Discard the husk flakes.

Place the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor or blender and chop the nuts into a small granular consistency (but not to the point of a smooth puree).

Add the minced garlic and Parmesan cheese and process until incorporated. Add the basil and chives and process until incorporated.

Combine the oils. Slowly pour them into the processor or blender until incorporated into a smooth yet somewhat grainy texture. The pesto can be made thicker or thinner based upon personal preference adding more of less of the oil mixture.

Add salt and pepper. Check flavors and adjust seasonings to your preference.

The pesto should be stored in the refrigerator until used. If there is extra pesto, it goes well on most fish, chicken, pork, or on eggs for breakfast.

For the Chilean sea bass:

4 each 6-ounce portions of Chilean sea bass without skin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If the pesto is refrigerated, remove it so it can come close to room temperature before serving.

Lightly season the Chilean sea bass with salt and black or white pepper.

In a saute pan set over medium-high heat, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Wait until the oil is almost smoking. Carefully add 2 portions of the fish and sear until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Carefully turn the fish over and sear the other side.

Once the fish is seared, place it on a baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the 4 pieces have been seared. Place the seared fish in the oven and bake to an internal temperature of 140 degrees, about 7 to 12 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the fish.

Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Top with the hazelnut pesto and serve with your favorite side dishes.

Serves 4.

If you go

Blackfish Wild Salmon Grill and Bar is part of the Tulalip Resort Casino, 10200 Quil Ceda Blvd., Tulalip. It’s open from 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Call 360-716-1100 or go to for more information.

Hazel Blue Acres farm, 430 Hevly Road, Arlington, is open during the off-season from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Free cooking demonstrations are scheduled on the second Tuesday of every month at 2 and 6 p.m. Call 360-770-7261 or go to for more information.

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