Friday, November 1, 2013

Halibut Provencale

Last Year's Post:  Greek Shrimp and Orzo
Two Years Ago:   Double Chocolate Biscotti with Walnuts

I recently read a very interesting interview with Michael Pollan, a best-selling author who writes about food (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food).  I think of him sort of as a foodie anthropologist - he writes about our relationships with food and how they're evolved over time.  Anyway, he was interviewed as part of a PR tour for his most recent book "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation".  The most interesting part of the interview for me was his concept of mindful cooking.  I had heard of mindful eating - the concept of paying attention to what you are eating and stop doing anything else at the same time - but not as it applies to cooking.

Here's a short excerpt from the interview:
I have always cooked, it’s not like I just learned how to cook, but I've always approached it with a great deal of impatience, and always kind of fought against it. Learning to be in the kitchen and not try to be multitasking, aside from conversation or listening to the radio, has been a great gift. I mean I approach it with a very different spirit. One of the most important life lessons of this book is “When chopping onions, just chop onions.” ..... Slow down and you’ll enjoy it more and you’ll squeeze more out of the experience. 
(Reprinted with permission. You can read the entire interview here.)

If you pay attention while you're prepping and cooking, you can learn some pretty interesting things about smell, taste, texture and the transformations that cooking can cause.  For example, this recipe includes fennel.  If you haven't worked with it much, it's an interesting lesson in how to cut it up, what it smells like (licorice), what it tastes like raw (crunchy, with a slight anise flavor), and what it tastes like cooked (mild and sweet).  Be sure to smell and taste as you go, and you'll find all kinds of new foods that you like.  This is a great approach to take with kids also. (Not to smell and taste kids before cooking them, but to include kids in the food smelling, tasting and prepping process.)

Anyway, this is a great light and healthy recipe for baked halibut from Provence that includes tomatoes, fennel, white wine, olives and plenty of herbs.  The mild, sweet fish is complemented beautifully by the Mediterranean flavors and stays very moist because it's covered in sauce while it bakes.  You could also use sea bass. tilapia, cod or any other mild white fish if you prefer.

Here's how to prepare the fennel - start by cutting off the long skinny stems and fronds and just use the bulb.

Cut the bulb in half and cut out the solid core by making diagonal cuts.

Slice and chop the fennel (be sure to smell and taste the raw fennel so you can compare it later to the taste and texture when cooked).

The fennel, onion and garlic are sauteed, then tomatoes are added and cooked briefly before adding the herbs.

Half the tomato mixture goes into the baking dish, then the halibut and the remaining sauce are added.  Isn't halibut pretty?

After baking, a breadcrumb/olive topping is added and browned briefly.

It's an easy, foolproof and very healthy dish.

printable recipe
Halibut Provencale
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt, divided
4 cups diced tomatoes with juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 (5-6 oz) halibut fillets
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence or French herb blend
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 450d.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds.  Add fennel, onion, and ½ teaspoon salt; sauté 8 minutes or until lightly browned.  Stir in diced tomatoes and juices; cook 2 minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in fresh basil and parsley.

Spoon half of tomato mixture into a baking dish large enough to hold the fish fillets in a single layer.  Place fillets over tomato mixture.  Pour wine into dish; sprinkle fillets with ¼ teaspoon salt.  Spoon remaining tomato mixture over fillets.  Bake at 450d for 15 minutes.  While the fish bakes, combine the breadcrumbs, olives, herbes de Provence, 1 teaspoon oil, pepper, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a small bowl.  When 15 minutes have elapsed, remove the fish from oven; preheat broiler.

Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the fillets.  Broil 5 minutes or until lightly browned, watching closely so the topping doesn't burn.  Serve immediately.

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