7 July 2010

Vanilla-Scented Halibut with Asparagus and Hollandaise - Recipe

After the recent flurry of blog posts from my recent trip to Japan I thought it might be time to write about some things closer to home, namely halibut and a simple recipe for it.

Halibut is a rather strange fish. The largest flatfish in the Atlantic, it starts out in life swimming upright like a regular fish with an eye on each side of its head and then for some strange reason decides it wants to swim on its side, with one eye mysteriously migrating over to meet its twin on the upward facing side. It is a fish that is surrounded in mysticism, its English name coming from an amalgamation of "holy" and "butt" (no sniggering at the back) - a "butt" being a flatfish and "holy" in the sense that it was typically eaten on holy days when meat could not be consumed. It has been a part of Scandinavian cuisine for thousands of years, in fact 6,000 year old drawings of halibut have been discovered in caves near Alta, way up in northern Norway.

Wild Halibut in Norway is fantastic at this time of year but Norwegian farmed halibut is wonderful too and a more sustainable alternative, it even featured as a key ingredient in this year's Bocuse d'Or. Luckily I live very close to the magnificent Fjelberg Fisk & Vilt fishmonger which, although pricey, sells some of Oslo's finest seafood. So when I needed to rustle up a quick supper for the Nibbler family I turned to a very simple but interesting recipe for halibut from one of my favourite Norwegian foodies, Andreas Viestad. This recipe for halibut features in his excellent book of modern Scandinavian cooking, Kitchen of Light.

I must admit I've been somewhat skeptical about using vanilla with fish and this is the first time I have tried such a combination. But once cooked the vanilla flavour really mellows out with none of that cloying taste that an overload of vanilla often provides. It really complemented the meaty halibut very well. It also provided me with an easy way to sell the dish to the eldest Nibbler girl - she took one sniff of the dish before it went in the oven and said it smelt just like ice cream and couldn't wait to try some.

OK, so its a little late in the season for asparagus, but I found some nice looking imported ones and I don't need much persuading to make hollandaise sauce to go along with them. I'll fess up that the sauce did split on me, but a dash of cold water and some furious whisking rescued it nicely. The reduced cooking juices made a simple but effective sauce, although the fish is so juicy it doesn't really need it.

Ingredients (2-4 portions, depending on how hungry you are)
700g halibut steak
1/2 vanilla pod
Small glass of dry white wine
8 tbsp clarified butter
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp lemon juice
500g asparagus
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius
2. Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels
3. Split the vanilla pod and rub the seeds evenly over the fish
4. Place fish in an ovenproof dish and add the wine and season with salt and pepper
5. Cover fish tightly with tin foil and place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until cooked
6. While the fish is cooking prepare the hollandaise sauce by whisking the egg yolks, lemon juice and salt in a bain marie while slowly adding the clarified butter. Set aside and keep warm
7. Cook the asparagus in salter boiling water and season with salt
8. When the fish is cooked place it on warmed plates and reduce the cooking liquid in a pan
9. Serve the fish with the asparagus and hollandaise and drizzle over the reduced cooking juices

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