As a regular viewer of Top Chef, there’s something I don’t understand (other than how they get the cojones to call Eric Ripert their new judge when he’s been on less than half of this season’s episodes. Hello Bravo? The only reason why I’m back to watch this season is because of Ripert!) It seems like one of the biggest throw down insults that the chefs say about one another is something along the lines of “He has no game plan. It’s like he throws darts at the wall and hopes that something sticks.”
Not being a professional chef whose cooking will be picked apart on the minutest detail by judges and critics, I suppose there’s something to be said for having a vision before setting out in your cooking process, but it’s not as if cooking is a precise science like baking. It can be totally improvisational as long as you have the knowledge and skill to figure out what goes well together and how to adjust your flavors to compensate for any mistakes, somethings which hopefully if you’re competing in a nationally televised cooking competition, you’ve got. Frankly for a home cook, some of my biggest highs from cooking result from enjoying a great meal that was thrown together on the fly, ingredients and techniques decided and implemented as I go.
Take this halibut for example. I bought halibut because it was on sale, figuring that the veggies from the CSA would somehow work out into delicious sides. The CSA share arrived, and with one look at the produce, I had a vision for using almost all of them in a single dish. Really, the only things that weren’t going to be used were the green tops of some beets and herbs. No worries– I still had some baby red potatoes that I’d purchased the week before but never got around to using. So should the greens get sautéed as a side? Maybe boil them with the potatoes and make a salad? And what about that halibut? How could I make it interesting, try something other than my usual pan roasting?
Having read some cooking magazines/watched some cooking shows that all seemed to be pushing crunchy fried goodness, I was craving something crispy but frying the halibut didn’t seem quite right either. I decided to bake the fish with a layer of panko crumbs on top so the fish would be moist and tender but have a satisfying crunch on top. I dutifully heated up the oven and set some butter in there to melt and brown while the oven preheated then saw lemons out of the corner of my eye. Why not add lemon juice to the butter and toss the lemon in there so it would roast and flavor the butter as well?
With the halibut cooking, I set about boiling the potatoes. Since my fish was going to have some crunch, I wanted that texture to be mirrored in something else on the plate too. That crunch would not come from a potato salad, but it could come from my new favorite way of prepping potatoes– boiled potatoes that are lightly smashed then cooked on medium high heat in a cast iron skillet so they crisp up. I still wanted to use the greens though so I sautéed them in oil and garlic. While they cooked, I finally knew what I would do with them– a soft pile of garlicky greens would sit under my pieces of fish giving height and color to my plates. And there you have it: a meal on the fly but so delicious and summery. The fish was tender and flaky with a nutty flavor from the butter and a light citrus aroma. The greens provided a welcome contrast to the crunchy topped fish, so soft and lightly garlicky yet bitter and deep with verdant flavor. It’s times like these that make cooking without a game plan so satisfying.
- 16 oz fillet of halibut
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 a lemon
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup panko crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
- 1 bunch of beets, greens and stems removed, beets reserved for other use
- 1 medium clove garlic, smashed
Place 2 tablespoons of butter in a 11 x 9 inch baking dish. Squeeze the lemon juice into the baking dish then cut the lemon half in half and place the pieces in the baking dish as well. Set the baking dish on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
While oven heats, use paper towels to dab off any excess moisture from the fish. Remove the skin and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the panko crumbs with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When oven is heated, dip both sides of the fish into the melted butter then set the fish down in the baking dish. Cover the top of the fish with the panko crumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crumbs are browned and the fish is opaque and flaky. Sprinkle with chopped dill.
While fish bakes, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and garlic clove in medium skillet over medium heat. Wash the beet greens carefully as they can have large chunks of dirt (and in my case since they’re organic– lady bugs!!! Ack!!!) Chop roughly. Toast the garlic until golden on both sides then remove and discard. Add the greens and saute until wilted, about 4-5 minutes. Divide the greens between two plates in a small pile. Carefully cut the fish fillet in half and set each half on top of the greens.
CSA Count: 2
Beet greens, dill