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Braised Halibut with Spring Herbs
by Charlie Burke

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After a meeting this morning of the
New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection in Concord, I drove to the
skating  rink on Louden Road where every Friday a truck comes from
Sanders
Olde Mill Fish Market in Portsmouth bringing the freshest local fish and
lobsters
to our neck of the woods.

I bought a fabulous
Gulf of Maine halibut steak which was glistening and so
fresh it has to be less than a day off the boat.

I planted nearly five pounds of peas this afternoon and after that Jo and I
discovered the Bloodroot is in bloom by our brook, and the Trout Lilies and
Trillium are up. This prompted a trip to our herb garden where we found the
recent rain had caused our chives to be nearly a foot high, and the sorrel and
lovage were large enough to permit us to harvest a few leaves. I then knew how
we would cook the halibut: braised in a broth with lovage, sorrel, the last of our
garlic and the first of our spring onions. The firm flesh of halibut lends itself to
poaching or braising, as well as to broiling as we have described in a previous
recipe.

I like to lightly sear the steak until it’s golden but not cooked through, then it
finishes, covered, in and aromatic broth, similar to how we braise meat. Timing
for the fish, however, is very important because overcooking results in its being
dry. Add what you wish to make the broth; ginger and lemon or lemon grass
would work together, as would parsley and fresh tomato. The acidity of the
white wine adds to the dish, and swirling in some butter at the end helps blend
the flavors and moderate the acidity. I usually add some fennel seeds to fish
preparations and like the subtle flavors of coriander seed and peppercorns. The
saffron is a nod to Jo’s having lived in Spain for six years.

For two:

1 halibut steak, at least 1 inch thick and weighing over 1 pound
2 small stems fresh lovage or celery leaves
6 small sorrel leaves, rolled together and sliced across to make a chiffonade (2
teaspoons grated lemon rind can be substituted)
3 small cloves garlic, sliced very thin
2 small spring onions, sliced or 1 small onion thinly
sliced
1 small bunch of chives, chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seed
½ teaspoon pepper corns
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 pinch saffron (optional)
¾ cup each: dry white wine, water and chicken stock
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 generous tablespoon butter (optional)

Heat a sauté pan large enough to hold both the fish and the broth over medium
high heat and film the bottom with olive oil. Season both sides of the fish with
salt and pepper and sear on both sides for 2 – 3 minutes, or just until it begins to
color. Remove fish from pan and add all ingredients except the chives and the
butter. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook uncovered until
vegetables are soft and liquid has reduced slightly. Reduce heat so that liquid is
simmering, add halibut and cover with foil or pan lid. Simmer for
approximately 5 minutes, checking after 3 -4 minutes. The fish is done when the
middle is still slightly translucent. If it cooks until the middle is opaque, it will
be dry and lose its tenderness.

Separate the four sections of fish from the bone, plating two pieces per person.
Swirl butter into broth and spoon broth over fish, sprinkling generously with
the chopped chives. We served this halibut with rice and a sauté of asparagus
and leeks, but feel free to choose your own favorite starch and greens. The
acidity of the sauce would be balanced by a buttery Chardonnay, but a very dry
Spanish white (Burgans Albarino–Rias Baixas 2003) which we purchased at the
New Hampshire state liquor store in Hooksett was a perfect match. Perhaps it
was the saffron!

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
www.nhfma.org) and
helps run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
Braised Halibut
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