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2000s Recipes + Menus

Halibut with Tomato-Saffron Vinaigrette

  • Active time:1 hr
  • Start to finish:1 day
February 2009
Halibut and basil may seem to make an odd couple but, in fact, their marriage is as winning as an old Billy Wilder romance. The dish is meaty, piquant, and fresh all at once. Sea salt lends extra bite. Would you expect anything less from a chef named Bear? To read about Walla Walla, see “A Town So Nice” in the February 2009 issue.

For tomato water

  • 2 1/2 lb tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove

For tomato vinaigrette and salad

  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine (preferably Chardonnay)
  • 3/4 cup sliced shallot (4 oz)
  • 3 parsley sprigs
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 1/2 Turkish or 1/4 California bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup packed basil leaves plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves (preferably opal basil)
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium heirloom tomato, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, or to taste
  • 2/3 lb arugula (2 bunches), coarse stems discarded

For halibut

  • 4 (6-oz) pieces skinless halibut fillet (1 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil (preferably opal basil)
  • Equipment:

    a flour-sack cloth or several layers of cheesecloth (18-inch squares)

Make tomato water:

  • Line a colander with damp flour-sack cloth and set over a large bowl or deep pot. Purée tomatoes, basil, and garlic in a blender (in batches if necessary) until smooth and liquefied. Transfer to colander, then gather cloth to form a sack and tie together using a long piece of string. Suspend sack from a knob or cupboard handle, using string, at least 4 inches from bottom of bowl. Let tomato water drip into bowl until you have at least 2 cups, about 24 hours. Reserve solids to add to a tomato sauce.

Make vinaigrette:

  • Boil wine, shallot, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, and basil leaves (1/4 cup) in a heavy medium saucepan until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids.
  • Return wine reduction to pan and add tomato water and saffron. Boil at medium heat until reduced to about 2/3 cup, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Transfer to a bowl and cool slightly. Whisk in vinegar, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking. Stir in cubed tomato, thinly sliced basil, and sea salt.

Cook fish:

  • Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in upper third.
  • Pat halibut dry, then brush lightly with oil and season with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Spread basil on a plate, then press each piece of fish into basil to coat 1 side well.
  • Heat remaining 3 Tbsp olive oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook fish, coated sides down, without turning, until basil “crust” is golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and continue to cook until fish is just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.
  • Toss arugula with a little vinaigrette and divide among 4 large shallow bowls. Put fish, basil side up, on top and spoon vinaigrette generously over it.
Cooks’ note: Vinaigrette, without tomato and basil, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using.