Growing up, we rarely ate fish. On the few occasions my mom made fish for dinner, the entire house took on a fishy smell. Not very appetizing. I don’t know what kind of fish she cooked because it was always served with a huge glop of heavy mayonnaisey tartar sauce. I figured that the tartar sauce was meant to kill the taste of the fish, and it worked.
If my parents were going out for the evening, we got those frozen battered fish sticks. When I was a kid, they were actually made from a whole piece of halibut that had been dipped in a heavy batter and quick frozen. I loved them. What kid doesn’t love food covered in heavy batter? I remember the coating but had no idea what the fish tasted like.
As I grew up, I started ordering fish in restaurants and actually tasted the fish for the first time. I tasted the difference between really fresh fish and frozen. I was still reluctant to prepare fish at home. I was afraid. Afraid the house would stink. Afraid I would overcook the fish.
But I overcame my fears, which opened up an entire new world. I learned that really fresh fish has a subtle flavor that needs to be enhanced by any sauce, not overwhelmed by it. I also learned that as much as I like to prepare things ahead of a party, this doesn’t necessarily work with fish. But it gives me yet an opportunity to have a friend help me out in the kitchen. The rest of the guests are more than happy to continue having another glass of wine and talking at the dinner table while we prepare the fish.
When halibut is fresh, it’s one of my favorite foods to cook and serve. The taste is subtle and the texture is buttery when cooked properly. We all know there is nothing worse than overcooked halibut. Too often, even in good restaurants, the fish is overcooked, dry and tasteless. Follow my method and your halibut will be amazing. It’s a very simple method and easy to master.
Halibut is a perfect fish to pair with almost any sauce. I serve it on a bed of artichoke puree. The puree is flavored with tarragon and leeks, which beautifully compliment the halibut. It is made ahead and gently warmed on the stove, while you cook the halibut. The puree is substantial enough that my vegetarian guests don’t leave hungry. (Of course, at my house it’s impossible to leave hungry.)
When you read the recipe, you might think it is a lot of butter and oil. You want the halibut to be gently bathed in the butter-oil mixture. Halibut contains very little oil, so this keeps the fish incredibly moist and most of the butter / oil stay in the pan after the fish is cooked. Another trick to preparing fish for several people is to buy pieces that are all the same size. I buy 6-oz. portions and ask my fish monger to make sure that they are all the same size and thickness. This ensures that they will all cook evenly. Now, if you’re still afraid of halibut, buy one piece, use the cooking method I suggest, decrease the butter / oil to 1 tablespoon of each — and try it. Think of it as a dress rehearsal before the big event. You’ll see how easy it is to prepare perfect halibut.
Overcome your fear of fish and try this recipe!
HALIBUT WITH ARTICHOKE PUREE
EVENT: Summer Solstice
SERVES: 10 – 12 people
For the halibut:
10-12 six oz. halibut fillets, room temperature
Salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Rinse fillets under cold water and pat dry.
2. Season each fillet generously with salt and pepper.
3. In a large saute pan or 2 medium pans, heat olive oil and butter over low heat.
4. When oil is hot and butter is melted and just starting to bubble, place all the fillets in the pan or pans.
5. The fish won’t take long to cook. The cooking time varies depending on the thickness of your fillets. The rule of thumb is to measure the thickest part of fish and allow 10 minutes for every inch. One-inch thick fillet would take 5 minutes per side.
6. Keep an eye on the fish. Don’t walk away to get another glass of wine, have someone bring it to you.
7. After 5 minutes, turn the fillets over. It probably needs another 4-5 minutes.
8. The fish should be opaque in the center. Remember it will continue to cook after you take it off the stove.
The artichoke puree isn’t complicated. Just remember to cook the leeks and the shallots very slowly over low heat. This enhances the flavor. Also, be sure and buy artichoke hearts packed in water. The ones packed in oil usually have lots of seasonings. You want the subtle suggestion of fresh tarragon in the recipe to compliment the artichokes and fish.
A TIP: If you have leftover puree, you can add more stock to thin it and freeze it in ice cube trays. You have homemade artichoke soup waiting for that night when there is nothing in the house and soup is just perfect.
For the artichoke puree:
3 cups chopped leaks (whites only)
1/3 cup shopped shallots
1/2 cup chopped scallions (green part only)
2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil such as grape seed
1/8 cup chopped fresh tarragon
2 1/2 cups packed chopped fresh spinach *
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 jars (19 oz.) whole artichoke hearts, in water, drained and chopped *
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar *
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
1. In a large saute or large sauce pan, over low heat, slowly cook leeks in oil.
2. Add chopped shallots and scallions and cook over low heat until they are very soft.
3. Add 3 cups stock and bring to gentle boil.
4. Add artichoke hearts, heat through.
5. Add chopped tarragon. Cook 2 minutes.
6. Add chopped spinach and mix thoroughly. Cook for 1 minute.
7. Turn off heat. Allow to cool.
8. Puree in batches in Vitamix or food processor.
9. Taste for salt and pepper.
10. Add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.
11. Add optional heavy cream. **
* A NOTE: I purchase quite a few items for this recipe at Costco: whole artichokes packed in water, fresh spinach and balsamic vinegar.
** ANOTHER NOTE: This can be made a few days ahead. If you’re making it ahead, don’t add heavy cream. Bring puree to room temperature before reheating over low heat. Add heavy cream just before serving.
ANOTHER TIP: This recipe can easily become artichoke soup with the addition of more stock, to desired consistency.
1. Put artichoke puree on the dinner plate. Place fish on top with a piece of artichoke. If you’re feeling decadent, put a spoonful of the butter-olive-oil liquid on top of the fish.