Most people have a short list of “go to” dishes they can prepare for a dinner party. In my mind, things on this list should have all of the following going for them:
● relatively affordable
● easy to prepare
● impressive to serve
This recipe is one of the top five I serve routinely when I have friends over for dinner. It fits the bill in every way and has a good contrast of flavors and textures to boot. While the three aforementioned criteria are really the backbone of a good “go to” dish, I firmly believe that whenever possible what you serve should also be unique and have layers of flavor. That may seem like a daunting task, but I assure you that there are easy recipes, including this one, that can rise to that occasion and not leave you winded and agitated in the process.
The toasted pecan crust over a flaky piece of halibut creates a buttery richness that is off set by the sweet acidity of the warm, roasted tomato vinaigrette. The soft bed of slowly melted leeks adds an additional layer of mild, grassy sweetness and is a light accompaniment to the fish. Your guests will savor the interplay of textures and flavors in this dish and you will enjoy the relative simplicity of pulling it off.
1 ½ lbs fresh wild Halibut, skin removed
½ C pecan pieces, lightly toasted
½ C Panko breadcrumbs
5 shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced *
2 pints cherry tomatoes, red and yellow assortment, washed
8 large leeks
1 Tbsp basil leaves, sliced finely *
1 Tbsp parsley, washed, dried and finely chopped
8 Tbsp butter
½ C chicken stock or water
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar *
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp minced shallot and garlic amd 1 tsp chopped parsley. Cut halibut into four equal portions and season fillets with salt and pepper. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium high heat for about 2 minutes. Add enough olive oil just to coat the bottom of the pan then add fish and allow to cook untouched for about 4 minutes. You want the fish to form a golden crust before flipping. Allow to cook for an additional 2 minutes on opposite side before adding 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp minced shallot, 1 tsp minced garlic and juice of half a lemon. Transfer fish to a parchment lined baking sheet and top each fillet with a generous crust of breadcrumb mixture.
Cook fish in the oven for 10 minutes or until fish appears to flake slightly when touched.
Cut down leeks so that you are left with only the white base (small amount of light green stalk is fine). Cut off the root from what remains then slice leek in half vertically. Remove the tough inner core of the leek, then with cut side down on your work surface, slice the leek into ¼ inch strips. Boil leek strips in salted water for about five minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Drain leeks completely. Heat stock and 4 Tbsp of butter in a medium skillet and add leeks. Cook over moderate heat so that the liquid slowly reduces to about 2 Tbsp, or just enough to thicken and coat the leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Set leeks aside and rewarm over low heat just before serving.
For Tomato Vinaigrette:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place tomatoes on parchment paper lined sheet pan then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast in the oven until skins begin to lightly char. Remove from oven and add 1 tsp of minced shallot and 1 tsp of minced garlic. Return tomatoes to oven for an additional 4 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon tomatoes into a small bowl. Add sherry vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, spoon a pile of leeks in the middle of a plate and top with a pecan crusted halibut fillet. Top each piece of fish with some tomatoes, then drizzle remaining juices from the vinaigrette around the side of your plate.
I recommend serving this dish with a California style chardonnay. In contrast to the French style of this varietal, a quintessential California chardonnay (such as Nickel and Nickel from Napa Valley) is aged in French oak and displays creamy, nutty characteristics. It is a full-bodied white wine whose oaky flavors pair well with the pecans. It has enough acidity to play along with the tomato vinaigrette and cut through the richness of the fish, and its buttery notes are a perfect compliment to the leeks.
*An easy way to finely mince garlic is to peel the clove, without crushing, then run the clove against a microplane.
*To finely slice, or “chiffonade” basil leaves, pluck several leaves from their stem then stack them one on top of the other to form a neat pile. Starting at one end, run the knife through the leaves using a rocking motion while you slice to create fine threads of basil leaf.
*Sherry vinegar aged in casks from the Jerez region of Spain is preferable.