As a word, ‘halibut’ means ‘holy butte’ (butt spelled with an ‘e’ at the end).
The name is supposedly derived from the combination of the medieval English words for holy and butte (the combo has everything to do with traditional Catholic food obsessions, and ‘butte’ here is the general term for flatfish, not a part of the anatomy flatfish obviously don’t possess, even when very young).
Still, for other reasons, I’ve always considered Halibut a great treat, but it’s generally pretty expensive, so when I spotted a beautiful tray of very fresh looking fillets in the fish display at Chelsea’s Whole Foods market, learned that it had never been frozen, and that it was [very seriously] on sale, I grabbed us a piece.
I then looked inside my files for a very simple recipe, but one with a little zing, and I found something by California chef David Gingrass that I had cut out from Food & Wine 12 years ago.
I mostly followed his instruction.
- after the oven was turned on and set at 400º, one large crushed garlic clove from Chelsea’s Foragers Market and the zest of one small organic lemon from Chelsea’s Whole Foods Market was mixed inside a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of Trader Joe’s very good all-purpose Italian Reserve unfiltered olive oil and allowed to stand at room temperature, discarding the garlic after 10 minutes and the oil put aside while another tablespoon of olive oil was heated until shimmering inside a shiny re-tinned copper au gratin pan and one 20-ounce halved piece of Canadian halibut (I believe from the Pacific, but, sadly, the fish person didn’t know) from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, both seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, was added to the pan, skin side up, cooked over high heat until the bottom could be seen beginning to brown [I may have been too cautious with the heat, as my halibut didn’t quite ‘brown’, but I also think: too much oil!], or about 3 minutes, then transferred to the oven and roasted for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until opaque throughout, arranged on the plates browned side up, where they were drizzled with the garlic lemon oil and garnished with micro scallions from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- six Maine cherry ‘cocktail’ tomatoes from Whole Foods, slow-roasted inside a small antique rolled-edge tin oven pan with a heaping teaspoon of dried Italian oregano from Buon Italia, half a tablespoon or more of Trader Joe’s Reserve olive oil, and 3 bruised cloves of garlic from Foragers Market
- I treated the chard that I had on the windowsill pretty much as the escarole was handled in Gingrass’ recipe, heating one tablespoon of olive oil inside a large vintage copper pot, adding one crushed garlic clove, 2 salted but thoroughly rinsed and filleted anchovies, and a bit of Calabresi peperoncino secchia from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, then cooking over moderate heat, stirring, for about 30 seconds, before more than half of 2 living (they and their roots rested in water inside a glass container) red chard plants that I had brought home from Stokes Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, washed, drained several times, and roughly chopped, were stirred in gradually and heated until barely wilted, or for about 2-3 minutes, seasoned with salt and black pepper, then drizzled with olive oil
- the wine was a stunning Spanish (Terra Alta) white, Aureo, White by Joseph Puig 2014, from Astor Wines
- the music was Renée Fleming’s magnificent voice, along with Handel’s opera seria, of 1735, ‘Alcina’, William Christie leading the Choir and Orchestra of Les Arts Florissants, with Juanita Lascarro, Laurent Naouri, Timothy Robinson, Kathleen Kuhlmann, Susan Graham, Natalie Dessay, and Renée Fleming
Four whole butterfish, enough to serve as an entrée for both of us, set me back all of $1.85 at the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday. I knew they would be cheap; they always are, but I was still shocked when I saw the amount written on the bag. I told Delores, the fisherman’s wife, preparer of the superb seafood items they sell along with the catches themselves, and their acting cashier on busy Saturdays, that there must be a mistake, that there were 4 whole fish inside. Nonplussed, but only until for a moment, she replied: “They’re butterfish, right?”
They were butterfish, and they were, very right. The catch (no pun intended) was that they hadn’t been cleaned, so some of the value added was mine, but that operation took a very few minutes and required no skill whatsoever.
They were also very very beautiful, at every step in the process of their preparation. At the time I moved to the east coast from the Midwest (well, via Germany) over half a century back, I did not know that I would end up living at the edge of an ocean with fish designed to look as spectacular as these.
There was a first course, partly because it was a holiday: We were celebrating one of our anniversaries: We had met exactly 28 years before. We had Delores’ smoked seafood salad, or pâté, and it was every bit as delicious as I remembered.
- a composed smoked fish salad, or pâté, using local fish caught by Phil Karlin of P.E. & D.D. Seafood Company, whose wife, Dolores actually made it, consisting of more than one kind of white fish, smoked; mayonnaise; red onion; and celery (the salad was perfectly seasoned), served on slices of a rich, moist loaf of a fantastic ‘beet rye’ from Philadelphia’s Lost Bread Co. that had just been toasted over an open gas flame on our ‘Camp-A-Toaster’ seconds before
- two tiny heads of gem lettuce from Tamarack Hollow Farm, their roots snipped off and the leaves pressed down to almost resemble rosettes, dressed with a little unfiltered olive oil from the 6th Avenue Trader Joe’s, Maldon sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a bit juice from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market lemon
- the wine was a California sparkling rosé, Keith Hock California Sparkling Rose 2016, from Naked Wines
I was able to assemble and set up almost everything I needed to cook the main course before we sat down to the appetizer, and the cooking itself was brief and pretty straightforward.
- four 5-ounce whole butterfish from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, cleaned at home (the heads cut off, making it very easy, then the dorsal and ventral fins cut off with a kitchen shears), rinsed, drained, dried, 2 deep cross cuts made to each side before they were brushed with a mixture of olive oil, most of the zest and some of the juice from an organic Whole Foods Market lemon, chopped parsley from Phillips Farms, and some crushed dried red shishito pepper (with no heat) purchased from Lani’s Farm last fall, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper on both sides, dusted lightly with a local Greenmarket-purchased whole wheat flour from The Blew family of Oak Grove Plantation in Pittstown, N.J., placed in 3 or 4 tablespoons of a combination of olive oil and butter inside a large (13″) well-seasoned cast iron pan that had been allowed to get very hot, the heat then turned down to low and the fish sautéed for about 3 or 4 minutes each side, by which tie they had turned a crispy golden brown and been cooked through, arranged on 2 plates and sprinkled with more, (fresh) chopped parsley
- three Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Chelsea Whole Foods, halved, heated in a little olive oil inside a small vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass skillet, seasoned with salt and pepper, tossed with a pinch of dry organic wild fennel pollen from Buon Italia and arranged on the plates next to the fish
- one bunch of collard greens from Migliorelli Farm, the stems removed from the larger leaves, the larger leaves torn into smaller sections, washed 3 times, drained (some of the water retained and held aside to be added, as necessary, near the end of the time the greens were cooking), braised gently until barely softened or wilted inside a large, antique copper pot in which 2 cloves of halved garlic from Foragers Market had first been heated until they had softened, seasoned with salt and black pepper, finished with a small drizzle of olive oil
- the wine was a Portuguese (Vinho Verde) rosé, Phaunus Amphora Palhete Rosé 2016, a wine from a pretty extraordinary tradition
I would normally go to the Union Square Greenmarket on a Friday, but yesterday I decided not to go (heavy rain; I waited for it to clear, until it was probably already too late; I didn’t really have to go; etc., and, anyway, I could go the next day, even though it would be crowded – I think of Saturday as largely for amateurs, and people holding hands – so that night I broke out a box of local pasta and looked around the kitchen for something that would make an interesting sauce.
There was a first course, to add even more interest to the meal.
- two ounces of La Quercia Prosciutto Americano from Whole Foods, drizzled with a bit of good olive oil, Badia a
Coltibuono, Monti del Chianti from Chelsea Whole Foods Market
a little wild arugula from Lani’s Farm, dressed with the same oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a dash of Aceto Cesare Bianco white wine vinegar from Buon Italia (using a mix of Langhe white wines)
- slices of a She Wolf Bakery miche (this bread goes on forever, never losing its flavor, and almost none of its texture or crustiness)
To avoid much of an interval, the water for the pasta was already being heated when we sat down with the prosciutto, and the simple, quickly made sauce, the ingredients already assembled, was begun when we had finished.
- eighteen ounces of Korean cucumbers from Lani’s Farm, sliced about 1/2″ thick, dried, sautéed inside a large antique high-sided copper pot in a little olive oil over a fairly high flame until they had begun to color, joined by 2 whole small dried red Calabrian peppers from Alewife Farm, the thickly chopped bulbs and sliced leaves of 6 small ramps from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, cooked until the ramp bulbs had softened slightly and the surface of the little peppers began to look like that of candy apples, seasoned with salt and pepper, then 8 ounces of a local pasta, Sfoglini trumpets, cooked al dente, and some of the pasta water, were added to the vegetables, stirred over a high flame for a couple of minutes to blend the flavors and the ingredients, and to emulsify the liquid, after which a pinch of fenugreek was added, and a bit of juice from a Persian lime from Fantastic Gardens of Long Island, the mix transferred to 2 shallow bowls, drizzled with a bit of olive oil around the edges (after the picture above was taken) and scattered with homemade breadcrumbs, made from crusty loaves darker or more strongly-flavored than most, that had been heated and browned, stirring in a little olive oil inside a small seasoned antique cast iron pan, the bowls garnished with the pretty spectacular effect of some micro scallion from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- the wine was an Italian (Marche/Matelica) white, Fontezoppa Verdicchio di Matelica 2017, from Garnet Wines
- the music was an album featuring Ernst Krenek’s Symphony No. 4 and his Concerto Grosso, Alun Francis conducting the North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, but after the Krenek we switched from classic (classic for us) to something closer to now music, an album of contemporary chamber works by Kaija Saariaho (b. 1958): ‘Chamber Works for Strings, Vol. 2’, performed by the Meta4 string quartet, with the chamber music songs sung by soprano Pia Freund
Even though I think I’m always prepared for the possibility, I’m still pretty surprised when a meal exceeds my expectations.
This one went out of the park.
I’m taking a good look at this picture of the first outing of my old, recently re-tinned pan, because I’m pretty sure it’s not ever going to look this shiny again.
The tilefish started out pretty shiny as well.
- three tablespoons of rich Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ allowed to melt inside a newly-re-tinned vintage oval copper au gratin pan in a 475ª oven until barely browned, then adding the bulbs of 4 ramps from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm sliced crosswise, the leaves sliced lengthwise, and more than 3 tablespoons of chopped herbs (lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge; spearmint from Stokes Farm; sage, parsley, and dill from Phillips Farms) scattered around the pan, one beautiful tilefish fillet (17 ounces) from American Seafood Company, rinsed, dried, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, placed inside the pan skinned side down, roasted, the oven turned down to about 450º as a compromise with the requirement of the vegetable, turning once, for about 12 minutes, or until done, removed to the plates, sauced with the pan juices
- three Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Chelsea Whole Foods, halved, added to the pan with the tilefish during its last few minutes in the oven
- one pound of asparagus, with spears of various thicknesses, from Phillips Farms, the tough ends snapped off, and much of the length of the few wider stems peeled, rolled inside a large Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan with a handful of thyme branches from Stokes Farm in a little more than a tablespoon of olive oil, a little salt, and ground black pepper, roasted at 425º for about 20 or 25 minutes, then drizzled with a bit of Whole Foods Market organic lemon when they were arranged on the plates
- the wine was an Italian (Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol) white, Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco 2017, from Garnet Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Ernst KRENEK: Complete Piano Concertos, Volume TWO’, with Mikhail Korzhev and the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods
Just after midnight Tuesday I tweeted, aware of the possible ambiguity, “we had local mushrooms and hemp pasta tonight; now enjoying a little California rosé as a chaser, listening to @WilliamBasinski” (we had turned to the Basinski after the Vaňhal symphonies that had accompanied the meal itself).
The reality had nothing to do with hallucinogenics, although there was real wine.
- nine ounces that remained from a box of Sfoglini hemp reginetti opened for an earlier meal, boiled until just before it would have reached the point when it was al dente (about 10 minutes), drained and served with a mushroom sauce made by heating 4 tablespoons of rich Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ until it had stopped sizzling, after which one large sliced ‘camelot’ Dutch red shallot from Quarton Farm, and 10 small whole fresh sage leaves from Phillips Farms, and 10 ounces of separated or sliced sections of yellow oyster mushrooms from Blue Oyster Cultivation were tossed in, followed by 2 chilis (a pinch of crushed dried hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper and a slightly larger amount of light colored home dried habanada pepper), the mix sautéed until the mushrooms were soft and golden brown, then seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, arranged inside 2 shallow bowls, and almost a quarter of a cup of shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 24 months) from Whole Foods Market scattered on top, finished with a garnish of micro purple kale from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- the wine was an Italian (Chianti) red, Chianti Santa Fiora Villa Travignoli 2014,from Garnet Wines & Liquors
- the music was an album of symphonies by the classical Czech composer Jan Křtitel Vaňhal [here using the modern Czech spelling]