Eric Akis: B.C. halibut, with a southern-French flair

Eric Akis

Fresh B.C. halibut is in season and for today’s column I used fillets of that fish to create an appealing Mediterranean-style dinner for two.

Cooking the fish was easy. I set the fillets in a pan, drizzled and sprinkled them with olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper, and roasted them.

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The Southern-French-style mixture I topped them with once plated, cherry tomatoes Provencal, was also easy to prepare, but did require a little chopping. To make it, minced shallots and garlic are sautéed in olive oil until aromatic. Quartered cherry tomatoes, stock, capers, olives and thyme are added, and then the mixture is simmered, until a rustic, chunky-style tomato sauce is created.

I served citrusy rice pilaf alongside the halibut. As you’ll see in the recipe, it’s flavoured with orange and lemon and its taste and texture nicely complements the fish and cherry tomatoes Provencal.

In the recipe photo, you’ll see I also served the fish with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. I did not include a recipe for it, because it is too is easy to make.

For two servings, cook 10 to 12 trimmed asparagus spears in boiling water for two minutes, until bright green and just tender. Drain the asparagus, cool with ice-cold water and drain again.

Now pat the asparagus dry. Lay two thin slices of prosciutto on a work surface. Set five to six asparagus spears at one end of each slice of prosciutto. Tightly roll the prosciutto around the asparagus. Set the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus in the same pan you roast the halibut fillets in. It will be hot and ready to eat in the same 12 to 14 minutes it takes to roast the fish.

Roasted Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes Provencal

Here’s a rustic, tomatoey, southern French-style way of preparing in-season B.C. halibut.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 30 minutes

Makes: two servings

4 tsp olive oil (divided)

2 Tbsp minced shallot or onion

1 medium garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup quartered cherry tomatoes (about 8 to 10 tomatoes, depending on size)

1/2 cup chicken or fish stock

1 tsp tomato paste (see Note)

1/4 tsp minced fresh or dried thyme

4 to 6 black olives, pitted and chopped

1 to 2 tsp capers

• tiny pinch granulated sugar (see Note)

2 (5- to 6-oz/140- to 170-gram) halibut fillets

2 tsp orange juice

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

Place 2 tsp of the oil in a nine-inch skillet set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the shallot (or onion) and garlic and cook until tender and aromatic, about one to two minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste, thyme, olives, capers and sugar and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until tomatoes are softened and the stock has reduced to about 1/4 cup, about eight to 10 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and set sauce aside until needed.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Set fish in the pan. Drizzle each piece of fish with some of the remaining 2 tsp olive oil and the orange juice. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Bake the halibut 12 to 14 minutes, or until cooked through.

When fish is almost cooked, set the cherry tomatoes Provencal back over medium heat and warm through. When fish is cooked, set a piece on each of two dinner plates, top with the cherry tomatoes Provencal and serve.

Note: The tiny bit of sugar in the sauce balances the acidity in the tomatoes. Tomato paste is sold in tubes in many grocery stores. It’s handy to have when you need a small amount. Simply squeeze out what you need, and then seal and refrigerate the rest of the tomato paste until you need some again.

Citrusy Rice Pilaf

For this side dish, rice is steamed and flavoured with lemon and orange to be served with the roasted halibut.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: two servings

2 tsp olive oil

2 Tbsp minced shallot or onion

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup long grain white rice

1/4 tsp minced fresh or dried thyme

2/3 cup chicken or fish stock

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 Tbsp fresh orange juice

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a pot set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the shallot (or onion) and garlic and cook until tender and aromatic, about one to two minutes. Mix in the rice and thyme and cook and stir two minutes more.

Add the stock, zests and juices, season with salt and pepper, raise heat to medium-high, and bring rice to a boil. Cover the rice, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and cook 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork, mix in the parsley, and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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