Halibut is one of my favorite fish to eat. Delicate, flaky, and mild enough to please even most non-fish lovers, it’s also firm and moist enough to stand up to a variety of flavors and cooking methods. Until recently, my favorite way to eat halibut was rolled in chopped macadamia nuts and fried in butter, a dish fondly referred to in my house as “Nutty ‘But,” and I’ve also often enjoyed it broiled and drizzled with buerre blanc, poached in fish stews, and grilled with a light teriyaki glaze.
On a visit last week to see family in Seldovia, Alaska, though, I found a new favorite halibut dish at the town’s café, The Tidepool. Seldovia is located a short hop across Kachemak Bay from Homer, the self-proclaimed “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” so it’s not surprising that the locals have some tricks up their sleeves when it comes to eating it.
In this dish, a halibut fillet had been poached in a cilantro-studded cream sauce and served atop herbed orzo pasta. The fish was supremely tender, a delicious counterpoint to the rich and flavorful sauce and the toothsome bite of the orzo. With a few weeks left of reliable halibut availability here in Seattle, I decided to try to re-create it, with a few tweaks.
I made a lighter version of the cream sauce by adding white wine and cream to a light roux mixed with chopped onion and garlic, then oven-poached two nice pieces of fish and a handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden in the sauce. When the fish flaked to the touch, I poured off the sauce and reduced it down, adding a handful of chopped cilantro right at the end of cooking.
Instead of the Tidepool’s delicious but over the top version where the fish floats in a shallow bowl of cream sauce, I generously drizzled the sauce on the fish served atop the plain orzo.
The result was just what I’d hoped for. Poaching almost guarantees against overcooking, and the wine added a nicely acidic note to the creamy sauce without masking the natural sweetness of the fish (which was enhanced by the addition of tomatoes.) This dish would also work well with other mild white fish like cod or sole, and would be dynamite served with wild rice or a pilaf.