When I got the email from Foodbuzz that they had accepted my proposal for the Alaska Seafood challenge, I was so excited. It had been one of those really dumb days when I was crabby, the kids were crabby, constipated, teething and tantrum-y. That email just turned the day around...well, at least for me.
One night, before slipping into a restless night's sleep, I envisioned how I would prepare a slab of halibut. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever cooked halibut. I didn't want to use salmon, for the mere reason I wanted to use something different. Crab legs, although delicious, scared me. So halibut it was! I wrote out my special dinner, composing it of what I would like to see on a menu in a restaurant and pressed "send". I then laid awake for three hours obsessing over the fact that I forgot to save my proposal. I actually tried to write it down in the dark with a sharpie and on what I hoped wasn't-something-important-scrap-of-paper. Not surprising, I could barely read it the next morning. Thank God, they sent me a copy of it in the acceptance email. Phew.
The halibut arrived in a timely manner on my front doorstep. Three pounds of halibut, what a treat! The pieces were ginormous! Everything was perfectly frozen, thanks to the dry ice and well-thought out packing. There was tons of literature that I found very useful in preparing me for the commencement of the halibut cookery. (Cookery, now that's a great word. I'll add that to my list of new favorite words.) Here's the dish:
Herb Rubbed Halibut
Surrounded by a Classic Beurre Blanc with Tiny Tomatoes and Fresh Basil
Topped with Crispy Fried Shallots
Aren't I fancy? It's ridiculous, really. Normally I find long-winded menu items pretentious, but since I was flowing with the creative juices, I just went for it and I guess it worked. With proposal accepted and the halibut resting peacefully in my freezer, I started to shake in my boots...a little. I've made all these things in some form or another, over the years, but never together and never with 3 small children around my legs. So I called in the troops...or troop, rather.
My neighbor Teri came over to watch the kids so I could prep and set up shop, as it were, for photography and cooking. Such a relief. I paid her with a halibut meal. To bad you can't pay bills that way.
I waited until last night to prepare this momentous meal and good thing too. The two previous nights were filled with robust thunderstorms and irritating power outages. Last night was perfectly lit and wondrously clear. Yay.
I started by making my herb rub for the fish. It's as follows:
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
zest of one lemon
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
2-3 tbls. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Mix and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Trim 1 pound of fresh asparagus and placed it on a half-sheet pan. Drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside. Roast the asparagus when you put the halibut into the oven.
Okay are you ready for this? DON'T DEFROST IT. You heard me. COOK IT FROZEN! It's a super cool way of cooking your fish to perfection without having to thaw it. And if you're a hair-brained mommy like me, then many days you find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen, ready to make meatballs and alas, no defrosted meat, because you're hair-brained and you forgot. Now what? C.I.F, of course...the fish, not the meatballs.
Take your your lovely pieces of frozen halibut. (Remember to have your oven preheated to 400 degrees.) Cut open the pouches and rinse the ice glaze off the fish. Pat dry and liberally rub on olive oil to both sides. Sear on one side for 3-4 minutes in a very hot pan that is oven safe, flip, THEN brush on your herb rub. It's sorta backwards (to the traditional way of seasoning and searing), but according to C.I.F doing it this way gets the seasoning into the fish better. So that's what I did. It worked beautifully. I also made sure I seasoned with salt and pepper in addition to the herb rub, because this was a big, honking piece of fish.
After I flipped it and added my rub, I popped it into the oven for 15-20 minutes. Check it after 15 min. Look to see that the flesh is opaque when you test it with a fork. When it's opaque its done.
Classic Beurre Blanc with Tiny Tomatoes and Fresh Basil
When I was thinking up the sauce, I thought summer ingredients. I mean, nothing says "summer" like tomatoes and basil. It also supports my culinary point of view, that being of the Italian persuasion. (Hmmm...sounds like something I would say if I were on Next Food Network Star, standing in front of Tuschman, Fogelson and Flay. How ridiculous! I would never waste my time thinking of such things. *Awkward cough.*)
In reality, (not that reality) I really was thinking summer ingredients and also a way to cut the heaviness of the beurre blanc. As you will see, it's simply loaded with butter. It's so rich, it needed fresh elements to pop in your mouth and bring a bit of acidity. So the tomatoes and basil bring the freshness it needs.
2 shallots, finely minced
1/4 c. white wine (dry is best, I used a BV Chardonnay)
3 tbls. vinegar (I used plain white vinegar, but you can use white wine vinegar or red, but it will make the sauce a pinkish color)
scant 1/4c. water (or you can use cream, but you don't need it. It aids in emulsifying the sauce, but you can easily do this without it.)
1/2 lb of butter (2 sticks), cut into 1" cubes
2 good handfuls of tiny cherry or pear tomatoes
10-12 leaves of basil, cut into very thin strips but only right before serving. It turns brown.
Combine the wine, vinegar and shallots together in a heavy saucepan. Let them cook down until the liquid is nearly gone, like 90%. Turn down the heat to low. Then add your water or cream and start whisking in your butter, one cube at at time. You don't have to be scared of adding the butter too fast. This is not what "breaks" your sauce. What will break it, is if the heat gets too high. It will separate. If this happens whisk in some reduced cream. But you can save it only once. Pretty much, you can by-pass all of that if you just keep the heat on low. Whisk in all the butter then turn off the heat. I added the tiny tomatoes whole and just to warm them. Not to cook them. Keep it on the stove to stay warm or in a double boiler. It really isn't that hard. I just make it sound that way.
See that clumpy thing hanging down under the bowl, right there? Yeah, that's my clubby, shallot ring finger. You're not dredging right, unless your fingers look like mini clubs when your done.
Crispy Fried Shallots
Meanwhile get to work on your baby onion rings. Seriously, these are so cute.
In a small heavy saucepan, bring 2 cups of canola oil up to temperature, about 325-350 degrees. While it's heating, slice your shallots into 1/8" to 1/4" rings. Depending on size, I would say 2-3 large shallots.
For the dredge:
1 cup buttermilk, or 1 cup milk with 2 tbls. vinegar
1 cup rice flour seasoned with salt and pepper
So easy, a cave girl could do it. Dip the rings into the buttermilk then into the flour mixture and straight into the hot oil. These cook up so fast! I'm talking a minute. So keep your eye on them. Sweet delish little rings of onion joy. Salt right as they come out of the oil. Do this right before you plate.
Your fish has most likely finished cooking by now and it ready to be plated. If you want to be fancy, do it this way: asparagus down, slightly fanned out; nice chunk of halibut on top; spoon a generous amount of beurre blanc around the asparagus, so it looks like it's taking a nice bath in the buttery sauce (make sure to get some of those tomatoes on there too); top with the crispy shallot rings and garnish with angel-hair thin strips of basil. Voila.
Or, you can eat it like I did: Wad of fish, some sauce and a handful of shallot rings that I crammed in my face, while holding my overly tired, screaming 13 month old baby boy. Classy.
I've gotta say, I ended up being pleased with this dish. Everything came together, regardless of my slightly frazzled state. I especially enjoyed the crunchy shallots with the meaty texture of the halibut. And of course, how can you go wrong with a buttery sauce and asparagus? The basil was the number one flavor that brought the whole dish together. It was bright, fresh and accented each layer of the dish. I suggest getting a bite with everything: crunchy, buttery, sweet, salty, soft, meaty and...okay, I need to stop. Wait for it. Top Chef is calling, yup, they need a new judge.
The halibut was fresh and the texture was great. As far as the C.I.F., it's a fabulous idea and best of all it works! Alaska Seafood supports sustainable fishing too! Click here to see their site. Thank you to Alaska Seafood marketing board and thank you Foodbuzz.com for choosing me to do this post and sending me such a wonderful product! I had a blast and everyone enjoyed the fish.
So there you have it my dears. I hope you've enjoyed this. It's a great meal for sharing with friends that rescue you (like Teri) and your family, who cheers you on. Nothing like hearing my kids say, "Yay, Mommy! You did it!" Like I had just gone to the potty for the first time. These are the people I love to cook for.
If you feel so inclined, please vote for me on foodbuzz.com. "Buzz" me where you see my post. I'd so appreciate it. I could win a trip to the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco in November! Lord knows, Mama needs a little break.
Cheers, Foodie Friends!