One of Chef Nate Appleman’s favorite, yet simple, ways to prepare firm-fleshed fish is to pair it with a mixture of nuts and herbs. Here, a paste of pistachios, preserved Meyer lemon, and parsley complements halibut, while in the next recipe a basil-almond mixture is matched with salmon. If you are fortunate enough to come across halibut cheeks, this dish is especially brilliant with them. If using halibut cheeks, remove the tough connective tissue on the underside before cooking them: slip the tip of a boning knife under the tissues, it will look similar to silver skin – and cut it off the cheek, leaving the cheek intact.
Braised Halibut with Pistachios, preserved Meyer Lemon, and Capers
By Chef Nate Appleman
2 ½ lbs halibut fillet, divided into 6 (6 ½ portions), each about 1 inch thick
1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, lightly toasted (page 81)
1 TBLS salt packed capers, soaked (p.84) pith and flesh removed, soaked, and minced
¼ tspn dried chile flakes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
Leaves from ½ bunch flat leaf parsley ( about 2 cups loosely packed)
1 fresh lemon, cut into wedges
Season the fish portions evenly with a few generous pinches of salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before serving, remove the fish from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the pistachios, capers, preserved lemon, and chile flakes in a food processor or a mortar. Pulse a few times or crush with a pestle until coarsely blended.
With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil, or drizzle in the olive oil as you can crush the ingredients with the pestle. Add the parsley and pulse a few more times or crush with the pestle just until combined. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of salt if needed. The fish is seasoned and the preserved lemon and capers are salty, so you may not need to add any salt.
Place the fish pieces in a baking pan and divide the pistachio mixture evenly among the tops, covering each piece and pressing lightly so the topping adheres. Add enough water to the pan – about ½ cup – to come halfway up the sides of the fish, and transfer the pan to the oven. Braise the fish for 10 – 15 minutes, or until firm and just cooked through.
Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fish portions to a warmed platter. Taste the braising liquid and drizzle a few spoonfuls over the fish if desired. Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with a side of fresh lemon wedges.
Reprinted with permission from A16: Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.
Photo credit: Ed Anderson © 2008