Italian-Style Poached Halibut in Broth  Recipe
Italian-Style Poached Halibut in Broth

by Wolfgang Puck

With every new report about the health effects of the foods we eat, fish is a smart choice.

It's generally lower in calories and fat than other animal proteins. And some of the most flavorful varieties, though higher in fat than others, contain omega-3 fatty acids that, studies have found, can benefit heart health; these include salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout, herrings, and sardines.

Of course, that doesn't give you a free pass to cook fish in sinful ways. You won't benefit much, for example, if you dip fish in batter and deep-fry it. That creates a challenge for many home cooks, since low-fat cooking methods can sometimes be bland.

One solution for cooking deliciously healthy fish is to poach it in cooking liquid that you first pack full of flavor. That's the secret behind my recipe for Italian-Style Poached Halibut, a popular dish from my Trattoria del Lupo restaurant at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.

The broth starts with a base of aromatic vegetables.

Here, I use not only onions, shallots, and garlic, but also anise-flavored fennel bulb and, for a touch of spice, a fresh chili pepper. Be sure to cut up the vegetables into thin julienne strips, so they'll not only contribute more flavor but will also make an attractive accompaniment to the fish. Fresh herbs, added later, give even more aroma and flavor.

Next comes wine -- in this case, the Italian variety known as Pinot Grigio.

I like it here for its combination of dryness, fruitiness, and hint of spice; but you should feel free to substitute any other dry white wine you like. Simmering the wine with the vegetables not only coaxes out their flavor but also reduces and intensifies the liquid. I then add vegetable or chicken broth to build even more layers of flavor.

Then comes the fish.

Mild-tasting, wild-caught Pacific halibut is a perfect choice. But you can use any fish fillets you like, as long as you choose species that are sustainable and not endangered, and the results will be excellent.

Finally, I reduce the cooking liquid even more to bring it to a light sauce consistency that's surprisingly full of flavor. Those who aren't trying to eat quite so healthfully can also whisk in a little butter at this point if they'd like a richer sauce.

It's that easy.

Italian-Style Poached Halibut in Broth Recipe

Serves 4

Recipe Ingredients

4 wild-caught Pacific halibut fillets, each about 6 ounces
Sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized fennel bulbs
2 medium-sized yellow onions
2 shallots, cut into rings
1 fresh red or green organic jalapeno chili pepper
1 garlic clove
Pinch saffron threads
2 cups Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
2 cups organic vegetable broth or chicken broth
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 or 3 sprigs fresh mint
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon wedges, for garnish

Recipe Preparation

First prepare the vegetables.

With a sharp knife, trim off the stems and root ends of the fennel bulbs and peel off their tough, darker green outer layers. Then, slice each bulb thinly and cut each slice into thin julienne strips. Trim and peel the onions and shallots and slice them very thinly. Halve, stem, and seed the chili pepper, remove its seeds and veins, and slice it thinly. With the side of the knife blade, carefully smash the garlic clove and peel away its skin.

In a skillet large enough to hold all the fish comfortably in a single layer, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Add the fennel, onion, shallot, chili, and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until the onion turns translucent and the vegetables are glossy and beginning to soften but not yet turning brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the saffron and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the wine, raise the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a boil.

Continue boiling until the wine has reduced by about a quarter of its volume, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the broth, parsley, and mint.

Season the halibut fillets on both sides with sea salt to taste and add them, using a wooden spoon to submerge them in the liquid.

Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook until the fish is done at its center and flakes when probed with the tip of a small, sharp knife, about 10 minutes.

With a slotted spatula or wire skimmer, remove the fish fillets to a heated platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm.

Raise the heat under the pan and boil the cooking liquid until it has reduced to about half of its original volume, 7 to 10 minutes.

Adjust the seasonings of the cooking liquid to taste with sea salt and black pepper. If you would like a richer sauce, whisk in the butter pieces and adjust the seasonings again, if necessary.

To serve, transfer the halibut fillets to large, shallow serving bowls. Spoon the broth and vegetables over and around the fish, discarding herbs and garlic clove. Pass lemon wedges to squeeze over each serving.


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