It's not often that we find halibut here on the east coast, so when I do come across a beautiful piece it's cause for celebration and a little star treatment. Like cod, which we've got coming out our ears around here, halibut is a mild fish but a bit denser and meatier. The flavor is so delicate that I hesitate to coat it with anything but a little salt and pepper, preferring instead to cook it atop some aromatics that will perfume rather than overwhelm the fish.
Because it's a fairly meaty fish, it will take a good sear without flaking and falling apart, so I like to start by giving it a little browning on one side before placing it on a bed of tastiness and finishing it in the oven. This time around I felt like a trip to the Mediterranean was in order, and so paired the halibut with elements of it's sun-sweetened bounty. Even in the winter here in the northeast, cherry tomatoes are pretty tasty and get even better with a few minutes in a hot pan with a splash of good quality EVOO and a sprinkle of kosher salt to cook off some of their juice and concentrate their flavor. Add a few briney oil-cured black olives and a couple pine nuts and you'd swear you were dining on a sun-dappled patio in Marseilles (oh la la). The only thing that could have made this dish any better would have a been a few ribbons of fresh basil, but when it's January in Massachusetts basil is a dream that is months away.
This method of cooking would work with just about any kind of fish you can find, and is infinitely flexible as to the aromatics you use as a bed for the filets. In other words, roll up your sleeves and have some fun!
Cheers – Steve
- 1 1/2 pounds halibut, cut into 4 even pieces
- around 20 yellow and red cherry or globe tomatoes, cut in half (or quartered if they are large)
- 10 pitted oil-cured black olives (or pitted kalamatas), roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and very thinly sliced
- a few glugs of good quality EVOO
- a splash of dry white wine
- 3/4 cup of low sodium chicken stock
- handful of pine nuts
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- fresh parsley or finely sliced basil as a garnish
- Heat the oven to 400℉.
- Heat a couple glugs of EVOO in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in the garlic and sauté about a minute or so, until just lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and about half of the olives, sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper, and toss to coat. After about a minute splash in a little white wine and let it reduce. Add the chopped thyme and the chicken stock and continue to cook until the tomatoes are collapsing and releasing their juices. Pull from the heat and dump the whole mix into a shallow gratin dish.
- Wipe out the skillet, add a fresh splash of EVOO and place it over a medium-high flame. Season the fish on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper, and when the oil is hot, carefully lay the filets in the pan taking care not to crowd them. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom surface of the fish is nicely browned, flip each piece then carefully place them atop the tomato mix in the gratin dish, browned side facing up.
- Sprinkle the pine nuts into the dish then place it in the oven and bake for about 7-10 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through. You can test by taking the tip of a small knife and inserting it into one of the filets, hold it there for a count of of 7-8, then place the tip of the knife against your lips. If it feels warm-hot then the fish is cooked. Serve the fish with a generous scoop of the tomato mix, then top with the rest of the olives and a dash of chopped parsley or basil.