Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Poached Halibut with Cilantro Cream and Oranges

My brother and his girlfriend are some of the youngest foodies I know. At the ripe age of 21 and 20, they love hanging out in the kitchen with me (Megan mostly helping, and Leo mostly sneaking food), cooking on their own, and even reading food blogs. So when they came to visit this weekend, it was a perfect opportunity to make something special. Not that I need an excuse to make a special dinner, but I do need an excuse to make chocolate bread pudding. That stuff is just too dangerous to make for 2 people.

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.

Serves 4

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
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. 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.
  3. Cut out a circle of parchment paper the size of your skillet and heavily butter one side.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Pour the sauce over fish. Top with oranges and serve with good bread for dipping.


Kalyn Denny said...

This sounds completely amazing. I'm bookmarking the recipe.

Erin Eats said...

This is a beautiful recipe. I'm not very experienced with wines, do you have a recommendation for a wine to use in this dish?

This blog is pretty inspirational, I've only started eating fish in the past few years, but I have really only tried my hand at tilapia and salmon. I'm going to have to branch out!

Helen said...

Hi Erin,

You can use any dry white wine. $3 Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc from Trader Joes works well. No need for expensive wines -- once the wine heats up all the interesting complexity that you pay big bucks for will be gone. Just avoid cooking wines (like Holland house -- that stuff is vile) and sweet wines (like German Rieslings -- I love them, but they don't work for this sauce). You can also cook with leftover wine. I keep my leftovers in the fridge for weeks.

Hope this helps :)


mzn said...

This looks really fantastic, Helen. I want to try your parchment trick. And I'm thrilled to see a serious food-lover such as yourself recommend Charles Shaw.

Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

Boy, just when I don't think I need anymore culinary devices...

I've convinced myself that I don't need an immersion blender, however your points about it dealing with a range of sizes, and cleanup are duly noted. This recipe... well, its just the frosting on the cake!

I'm looking forward to how orange and cilantro crash together on my taste buds!

Anonymous said...

If I were there, I'd oooohhh and ahhhh, too!

Sounds and looks absolutely delicious!


Anonymous said...

Hi mzn,

Even her wine-snob husband (me) approves :-) For $5 or less it can be hard to find non-offensive wines. The CS SB has no off odors or tastes and has the crispness you want in a SB without tasting too tart. I also think the Cab is excellent for the price (and the perfect red cooking wine).


Anonymous said...

Hi Helen!
When I found out your blog I wasn't only happy to find such a useful sourse of culinary info, fun to read and pleasing to the eye too.

It also really warmed my heart to see you are a Russian expat (just like me), and being a valuable contributor to the food blogging scene, you are not abandoning your culinary heritage and sharing it with the world.

After plunging into the vast culinary world of the net and cooking away, I find myself sometimes forgetting what I used to eat at Mom's home, and I find it sad. I see you are not like that, good for you! :) And thank you!

Now, quite selfishly, I was keeping these delightful thoughts to myself all this time, and what brought me to voicing them, is, actually, a question.

What is the reason for using the oven in this recepy? Can't it simmer on the stovetop just as well? I just try to avoid using the oven whenever possible, mine is so old and terrible.

Helen said...

Hi Yulia,

It's so great to hear from another Russian reader. To tell you the truth, my interest in Russian cuisine is fairly recent. I was making Bouillabaisse way before I was making Uha or Borsh. But eventually you start having cravings for the foods you grew up with. I still primarily cook Mediterranean, so it's always a special occasion for me when I make a Russian dish, no matter how simple.

To answer your question -- yes, poaching (technique used in this recipe) can be done on the stove top perfectly well. The only thing I would suggest is to make sure you have enough liquid to cover your fish completely. When it's in the oven, the ambient heat cooks the top, but on the stove top, you need the liquid to cover it. This will give you way more liquid than you need for the sauce (of course, it depends on dimensions on your pan and fish, but most likely), so pour some out before proceeding to reduce it, thicken, and add cream.