Things got a little heated in the kitchen last night, and I’m not referring to the food (although that too was obviously heated). With two pounds of fresh Halibut in our refrigerator beginning to stink up the joint, we needed to get that fish cooked. Stat! BF wanted to cook the halibut our old standby way (steamed in tin foil on the grill), which I love. I wanted to try a new recipe. To compromise, we decided to cook half the fish standby, half of it new recipe (providing I could find a decent recipe).
I found two recipes — both on The Food Network web site. Neither one of them were accurately achievable unless we went to the grocery store and bought the necessary ingredients. Even though the grocery store is a five minute drive from home, neither one of us wanted to make the trip to the store. After thoroughly reading both ingredient lists and assessing the ingredients we already had in the house, I decided with a bit of tweaking of this Food Network recipe we could avoid a trip to the grocery store.
- 1 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 thyme bundle
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemon, zest removed from the lemon with a vegetable peeler in wide strips
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 T. fennel seeds
- 3 Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
- 4 (6 oz) Pacific halibut fillets
- Kosher salt
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, lemon zest, crushed red pepper flakes and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil then turn the heat off and let it sit for at least 1 hour. (*Big tip: This can be done ahead and used for LOTS of different things.)
- Cook’s Note: In this case it is important to work quickly and to slice the potatoes for 1 halibut fillet at a time. We are NOT going to soak the potatoes in water, this will help them maintain their starch so they will stick to each other and to the fish, but could cause them to turn brown.
- Using a mandoline, slice 1 potato extremely thin, (paper thin), in elongated rounds. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a clean, dry work surface. Arrange 3 potato slices in an overlapping vertical line pressing them together as you put them on the parchment. Repeat this process until you have a 4 by 6-inch overlapping potato rectangle that replicates fish scales.
- Brush the potato “scales” with the infused oil and sprinkle with salt. Season the halibut with salt. Lay the halibut fillet closer to 1 end of the potato rectangle than the other and then roll the fish up in the potato slices, using the parchment to help facilitate the rolling.
- Press to compact and really adhere the potatoes to the fish. Brush the outside of the potatoes with the infused oil to seal the potatoes and to prevent the potatoes from turning brown, this will also help make a nice tight “fish package”. Reserve the fish in the refrigerator while preparing the remaining fillets. Refrigerate the fillets for at least 1 hour before cooking.
- To cook the fish: Add the infused olive oil to a large nonstick saute pan until the bottom is generously covered and bring the pan to a medium-high heat. Season the fish with salt and add to the pan. Cook the fish on both sides for 3 to 4 minutes frequently spooning the excess oil over the fish to “baste” it.
- The potatoes should be crispy golden brown and very well flavored and the fish will be succulent inside its crispy “scales”. Transfer to serving plates and serve.
This will make a fish lover out of anyone!
(I should put a clause beneath the title of this recipe: The Dish that Almost Wasn’t.)
BF dissented. He did not believe we could make this recipe because A) we didn’t have the right kind of potatoes (we had small golden potatoes leftover from our filet skewers) B) we don’t have a mandolin slicer to thinly slice the potatoes (whatever a mandolin slicer was! I had to look it up… I think my mom might have one.) C) we don’t have fennel seed (we have cumin, which someone on the internet says is an OK substitute — not sure about that?).
Despite the obvious setbacks he pointed out, I was not deterred. Earlier in the afternoon BF said if I found a recipe to try, he would cook it; so I got started making the ‘infused oil’ (of which, by the way, we did not have enough olive oil and I had to add some vegetable oil into the mix).
BF was unusually crabby last night. He admitted this well before we even started cooking dinner. (Both of us get extremely crabby when hungry.) Once he saw the recipe I wanted to use, his crabbiness visibly and audibly magnified. It wasn’t a pretty site in the kitchen: there was tinfoil crumpling, kitchen walkout threats, and sharp tones (I’ve never even heard of parchment paper!).
(Luckily for me, I had brought some parchment paper over from my place some time within the last few months — so that wasn’t an issue.)
Just as suddenly as BF’s crabbiness tide had risen, it crashed and broke. When BF saw me thinly slicing the small potatoes using a vegetable slicer, the crabbiness magically ceased. Curious that I was able to slice the potatoes without having a mandolin slicer, he joined me in the kitchen sidling up next to me and offering to take over the slicing. Finally I had swayed him over to my side. After we layered the potato ‘scales’ for our first piece of fish (him slicing, me layering), I grabbed the infused oil and began brushing the oil over the scales. Wordlessly BF took the brush from me and finished the job dabbing artfully at the potato slices. From there he did the rolling of the fish in the scales. Finally I had my BF back: the BF who enjoys doing the prepping and cooking. I don’t know who that other uninvolved, pessimistic BF was! That person was not my BF.
Later he explained to me that his mechanically-thinking engineer mind couldn’t fathom how we could make the dish without the proper tools and ingredients listed in the recipe (while my creative mind was busy finding the next best thing). I figured we had two pounds of halibut, what did it matter if a few pieces sucked? Plus I was counting on him to read the recipe and help me muddle through its complexity.
Thankfully once we removed the mandolin slicer road block, it was smooth slicing.
I knew that if the dish was bad, I was going to get a big fat I told you so from BF. The dish had to be pretty good in order for all my coaxing to try a new making a new halibut dish be worthwhile. After the shrimp and shallot pasta debacle from a few weeks ago, BF had mentally given up trying completely foreign dishes.
Luckily he bit into the dish and said, Hey, this fish is pretty good! It’s flaking perfectly. Despite BF’s initial disinterest in making the recipe, when I finally managed to lure him into taking over the job; he ended up making another masterpiece in the kitchen. (Don’t tell him I said so or he will get a big head.)
After we polished off the plate of fish he said to me, Would we ever make this again? I thought … not if we have to go through that song and dance again!
I was glad we had tried the dish, and it turned out to be pretty excellent actually, but I wasn’t sure I would want to go through the hassle of making it again — it was pretty labor intensive and I always count on BF to do all the labor intensive parts of cooking. When I told BF I wasn’t sure I would make it again, to my surprise — he said he would!
(But he’d leave out the cumin.)
I think I created a potato-crusted halibut fillet making monster…