You know how women have the reputation of standing in front of a closet full of clothes but claim they can’t find anything to wear? Well, that was me the other day, but I was standing in front of my refrigerator full of food, and even with a list of ideas in my notebook, could not come up with a single dish I wanted to make. I thought about it off and on throughout the day, and was getting increasingly unmotivated about dinner. I’d aimlessly meander over to the fridge and the pantry, hoping something would speak to me. What finally did was a lonely can of white beans.
Sometimes all you need is one ingredient to make everything fall into place. For me, it usually starts with the star of the show; the juicy piece of beef or the delicate piece of fish. But for some reason, seeing those beans made me instantly think: poached halibut on a bed of beans! Thankfully, my funky mood was lifted and was replaced by that happy “I know what I’m making for dinner” mood. I love that mood.
I’ve wanted to try poaching fish for a long time, but have always had this weird hang-up about it, envisioning something like boiled fish. I’d eaten poached fish in restaurants and it was always wonderful and very moist, but for some reason I never prepared it that way at home. Until now…and it won’t be the last time.
Poached Halibut with White Beans and Roasted Fennel and Onion
Roasted Fennel and Onion:
1 fennel bulb
1 red onion
salt and pepper
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 slices bacon, cut into lardons
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
white wine (amount depends on size of pot)
2 halibut filets
salt and pepper
Prepare the fennel and onion by slicing each lengthwise into thin strips. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven until soft, about 15 minutes.
Cook bacon in a small pot until starting to crisp. Pour off fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pot. Add garlic and let soften. Mix in beans, salt and pepper and just heat through. If beans look a little dry, add a splash of white wine or water. (To make bacon-free, just start with the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil.)
For the halibut, choose a small pot or baking dish that can go from stovetop to oven that is just big enough to lay the halibut filets in side by side. (I used a small Le Creuset dutch oven.)
Seed and slice tomatoes lengthwise. Heat olive oil in the pot and add tomatoes. Let soften, then stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. When garlic is softened, add enough white wine so it will just cover the halibut. (I used about 2 cups.) When wine comes to a boil, reduce and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
Season halibut with salt and pepper. Place filets in the poaching liquid and put in a 400 degree oven. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness of filets. The halibut will turn white when cooked. (Mine cooked for 10 minutes.)
Plate beans, then halibut, and top with roasted fennel and onions. (You could spoon a little poaching liquid of the halibut if you want…I didn’t.)
I really liked all of these components; both on their own and as a whole. Each piece added its own distinct flavor to the dish, but also paired together beautifully.
Roasting the fennel and onions brings out their sweetness and takes away any harshness they have raw. The beans offer a creamy hominess, and the bacon of course offers its usual fantastic bacony quality. (Bacony? It should be a word.)
And although the halibut didn’t start out as the star when I originally planned the dish, it certainly ended up that way. Poaching is such a gentle way to cook fish, and the poaching liquid imparts just hints of what went into the broth. A taste of tomato, a pinch from the red pepper flakes and garlic. The end result is moist and tender.
I did a little happy dance when I tasted this…that’s how I think every meal should be.