The question was what to serve before that "Death by chocolate." I was thinking of something light and doable in 30 minutes after coming home from work, but special enough for my dear brother whom I only see a few times a year. Poached halibut with sorrel cream sauce seemed perfect for the occasion. The only problem was that Whole Foods didn't have sorrel. But when did a missing herb stop me from making a dish? This cream sauce is all about variations. Not only can you use other herbs, you can even skip them all together and add some Dijon mustard or lemon zest. This time, I combined some chervil and cilantro, topped the whole thing with blood oranges and served it over asparagus. I am not sure what got more oohs and aahs -- death by chocolate or poached halibut.
Fish substitutions: sole, flounder, cod, haddock, hake or any other mild white fish. If using thin fillets (like sole or flounder), fold them in half.
4 halibut fillets without skin (6-8 oz each)
1 cup fish stock or water (plus more as needed)
1/2 cup dry white wine (plus more as needed)
1 Tbsp butter at room temperature (plus more for buttering parchment paper)
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 blood or navel oranges, sectioned (tip: see how to section an orange)
Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Set an oven-proof skillet that is just large enough to hold fillets in one layer over high heat. Add enough fish stock and wine so that the liquid is 3/4 inch deep (use the ratio of 2 parts stock to 1 part wine). When the liquid comes to a boil, turn down the heat so that it simmers gently.
- Cut out a circle of parchment paper the size of your skillet and heavily butter one side.
- Season halibut with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the simmering liquid. Cover with buttered parchment paper, and tuck the paper inside the skillet so that it touches the liquid and forms a bubble around the fish. This will keep the fish moist, but will let enough steam to escape so that the liquid stays at a bare simmer.
- Place the skillet in the oven and cook fish for 8 minutes per inch of thickness. To check for doneness, separate the flakes with a fork. Fish is done if the flakes separate without much resistance even if some parts still look translucent. Remove the fish to warm serving plates with a spatula and a spoon. Cover with foil to keep warm while finishing the sauce.
- Pour the poaching liquid into a measuring cup. Discard all but 1 cup of liquid. Pour it back into the skillet and set it over high heat. Reduce the liquid for 3-5 minutes to roughly 2/3 of a cup.
- While the liquid is reducing, mash 1 Tbsp butter with 1 Tbsp flour in a small bowl using a fork until they form a smooth paste.
- Turn down the heat under the poaching liquid to medium and whisk in the flour-butter paste. Whisk vigorously until no lumps remain and the sauce thickens slightly. Whisk in cream and herbs. As soon as the sauce comes to a simmer, take it off heat. Taste and correct seasoning.
- Pour the sauce over fish. Top with oranges and serve with good bread for dipping.