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Seared Halibut with Ginger, Lemon and Garam Masala

Seared Halibut with Ginger, Lemon and Garam Masala

This morning's visit to Harbor Fish found glistening sides of boat-fresh wild-caught Atlantic halibut, so without thinking much about how I would prepare them I bought a 1-pound fillet (which was about 1/4 of a side ).

Halibut is a large predator fish which has a firm snow-white flesh. It holds up well on the grill or when seared, but the flavor is subtle and therefore challenging to the cook: adding too much of an accent overpowers the natural flavor, but too light a touch produces a fairly bland meal.

Elise has been raiding our supply of garam masala -- the Indian blend of pepper, cardomom, cumin, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon -- to spice up salads or her favorite late night snack of vidalia onions and fresh goat cheese on a round of French bread, so I decided to prepare the fish in a way that would work with a sprinkling of the mixture.  A gingery lemon sauce -- laced with some heat -- seemed to be a way to go, as long as I could keep it under control enough to let the fish flavor show through.

The result of this thinking was a vegetable/fish/ginger broth, tempered with butter and goosed up with lemon juice, hot sauce and fish sauce. It had lots of character but wasn't agressive enough to overwhelm the fish, so it paired nicely with the garam masala. E pronounced the end result "surprisingly balanced."

I served this with a salad of spring greens, Vidalia onions, avocado and tomato slices, salted and dressed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A fresh Standard Bakery baguette and a crisp, cold pinot grigio rounded out the meal.

Seared Halibut with Ginger, Lemon and Garam Masala

1 lb halibut filet, skin on
2" piece of ginger
2-1/2 C water
1/2 C dry white wine
1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
scallion tops, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh oregano
fish sauce to taste
hot sauce to taste
3 T butter
1 tsp garam masala*

Remove the skin from the fillet and place the skin in a saucepan with the water, wine, carrot, onion, scallion tops, parsley, oregano and 1/4 of a lemon. Peel the ginger, slice in thin slices and then cut the slices into matchsticks. Add half the ginger to the pot and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer for 20 or 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the broth and discarding the solids. Return the broth to the stove and boil rapidly for another five minutes or so to reduce. Stir in the butter, then the remaining ginger. Season to taste with juice from the remaining lemon quarter, the fish sauce and hot sauce (it should have a bite, from mild to wild according to your preference, and a definitely lemoney finish). Keep the sauce warm while you cook the fish.

Cut the fillet crosswise into 4 pieces, about 1 to 1-1/4" wide. Roll up the pieces, skin side in, and tie them with string. (This will give you nice, easy-to-handle packages that look like little white rounds of fillet mignon, and it solves the varying-thickness problem that fish fillets present to the cook.) Dry the fish thoroughly. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet on high heat until very hot but not smoking. Place the rolled fish in the pan, with one of the cut sides down, to sear for 90 seconds. Turn and sear another 90 seconds. Remove to a warmed side plate. Cut the strings with scissors and remove.

To serve, spread a puddle of the sauce on the warmed serving platter or individual plates.  Place the fish on the sauce, then spoon some more sauce over them. Sprinkle on the garam masala and garnish with the lemon zest.

*Garam Masala

(from Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Sumana Ray)

3 tablespoons cardomom seeds
3" cinnamon stick
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 of a nutmeg

Grind spices together until finely ground. Store in a tightly closed container.


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Man, you're killing me here with the fresh, wild halibut story. I looove halibut, and this sounds so wonderful.

Then I was going to complain about not being able to find garam masala in East Central Illinois, but you go ahead and give me a recipe, and I have all of the ingredients for it! (Even though I might have to settle for frozen halibut.)

Yeah, just wait until summer when I can get fresh sweet corn from a neighbor's farm, and THEN we'll see who'll be jealous!

P.S.: Thanks!

Last time I had good FRESH from the boat halibut was when I lived in Alaska.. was visiting in Seward. There is truly nothing like it at all. Mine was served fried as Fish and Chips.

Yours looks divine!

Wow - this looks absolutely incredible. And I love the addition of garam masala. That's a spice blend that doesn't get much play in my kitchen - yet.

That fish looks fabulous.

Mmmm!...Delicious looking"as always"

Oh my! We made this two nights ago and licked the plates clean! All we could think of was "more more more..."

Thank you!

We visit Harbor Fish almost every Saturday. Just walking in the door makes me happy. One of the best spots around. Buying some Monkfish tomorrow and some Lobster for Sunday. Can't wait!

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