This is one of my favorite kind of recipes to cook with the kids. It offers a healthy and beautiful dish, that because of it’s component parts, can be modified when plated to satisfy almost anyone’s tastes. It can be a struggle with kids, trying to bend the family menus to suit everyone. You lean too much to the kid’s tastes and you eat nothing but mac and cheese, to the adults, and you end up with frustrated kids that won’t eat their dinner because its too much of a reach for their young taste buds. The magic of this dish is in the salsa that can be served over the fish for the more adventurous, on the side of the plate for those willing to at least try it, or be eliminated entirely for the younger kids who won’t even give it a chance. One meal, and three ways of serving it that can satisfy almost any member of the family.
It is a stylish and flavorful dish good enough to serve to company (and I have, many times), yet simple enough to prepare on a busy weeknight. The only element of the meal that takes any time at all is the making of the sweet and sour shallots that become part of the salsa. The shallots are actually very easy to make, but can take up to about 45 minutes to complete. Good news is that the shallots freeze beautifully, and one batch will yield enough to make this halibut dish a couple of times.
The original recipe for this dish is from Balthazar, one of my favorite restaurants in NYC, and calls for fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes, and to lightly cook the salsa before serving. I prefer using imported peeled, canned plum tomatoes, which simply require halving to remove the seeds and a rough chop before being incorporated into the salsa. No cooking, packed with flavor, inexpensive, and available year-round.
Boris was riding shotgun the other night when we made this dish and was in charge of cooking and smashing the baby yukon gold potatoes, toasting the almond slices, and sauteing and then roasting the halibut. The potatoes are all about feel and personal taste. He started them in a large pot of cool water and brought them to an easy boil. Given their size, they were ready in about 15 minutes, he checked them by inserting and easily removing a paring knife into the largest one in the pot. He drained them, put them back in the cooking pot, and doctored them to his (and my) liking with a combination of EVOO, butter, salt and pepper, smashing them with a potato masher into a creamy, chunky mass of deliciousness. Don’t fuss over a recipe with these things….use the force to balance the oil, butter and seasonings to your taste.
I skinned and portioned the halibut and handed them to Boris to season and cook while I made the salsa at the last minute. The fish requires a very hot pan to nicely brown one side in canola oil before being placed on a sheet tray to finish in a 400 F oven. Halibut is ideal for this dish (and for kids) due to its mild flavor and firm texture. You can, of course, substitute another kind of fish if you can’t find halibut, or don’t care for it, but try to find a firm fish that will withstand the transfer from the saute pan to the sheet tray without falling apart.
- 6 halibut filets, about 6 ounces each, skinned
- smashed baby potatoes with EVOO and butter
- 3 cups, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes
- 12 sprigs of fresh, flat leaf parsley
- 3/4 cup blanched almond slices or sticks, toasted
- 4-6 tablespoons sweet and sour shallots (recipe follows)
- 3/4 cup EVOO for salsa
- (for sweet and sour shallots, place 7 finely diced shallots in a small sauce pan with 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 3/4 cup sherry vinegar, and 3/4 cup white wine vinegar. Simmer for about 45 minutes, until the vinegars are almost entirely reduced, and all that remains is a thick dark syrup. If you want, double the recipe and freeze in 4-6 tablespoon portions for future use).
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. spread the blanched almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until they are lightly colored. Prepare the smashed potatoes, cover and keep warm.
- Add canola oil to just cover the bottom of a large saute pan and heat to almost smoking. Season both sides of the halibut filets with salt and pepper, and when the pan is ready, add 3 filets and sear one side for 2+ minutes to nicely brown, flip the filets and repeat for the second side. Remove the partially cooked filets to a sheet tray to finish in the oven. Sear the second batch, then place all the filets in the oven to finish for 3-4 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and let rest a few minutes while you finish the salsa.
- Place the chopped tomatoes, 4-6 tablespoons of the shallots (to your taste), about 1/2 -3/4 cup of EVOO, and salt and pepper to taste. Finish the salsa with the freshly chopped parsley. To plate the dish, place a mound of potatoes in the center of the plate with a fish filet on top, spoon the salsa over, making sure to get enough of the oil and tomato juice from the bottom of the bowl to drizzle around the food. Sprinkle the almonds over the top of it all and serve.