Eric Akis: Get happy with halibut

Eric Akis

A Times Colonist reader, Kevin, sent me an email asking if I had any recipes not requiring ingredients that are consistently out of stock at grocery stores during the pandemic.

Those ingredients included the dried pasta I used in my casserole recipe last week and other staples, such as flour, canned tomato products, canned fish and rice.

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I’ve visited several grocery stores recently, and while folks are still stocking up on staple items, fresh foods seem to be in relatively good supply.

Some of them, such as fresh vegetables, could be turned into soup and other dishes you could freeze for another time. In future columns, I’ll offer recipes geared that way.

But today, I thought I would offer a recipe you could enjoy straight out of the oven, one that uses a fine-tasting seafood I saw for sale at many grocery stores and seafood shops: fresh B.C. halibut. It’s in season now and such a treat to eat — the kind of food that makes you feel lucky we live where we do.

When you’re shopping, opt for firm, almost translucent fish that glimmers with freshness.

Try to buy fresh halibut the same day you’ll cook it. If you have to, you could store it, removed from its store packaging and set in a covered container, in the coldest part of your refrigerator for one day.

Halibut welcomes all sort of flavours, from simple accents — such as baking halibut fillets or steaks with butter and/or olive oil, lemon and garlic — to more exotic tastes, which is the route I took in today’s recipe, where halibut is flavoured Moroccan-style.

Remember when preparing halibut and other types of fish that when cooked, it should feel slightly firm, not hard — a sign you have overcooked it — and not soft, a sign it’s not cooked through. When cooked, the flesh will start to slightly separate into flakes.

Note: In my Wednesday, April 8, column I’ll be offering tips on menu planning and shopping for food during the pandemic.

Moroccan-style Halibut Fillets for Two

In-season B.C. halibut baked with aromatic spices, tangy citrus juice and zest, sweet carrots, salty olives and, if desired, rich walnuts. Serve the fish with couscous, bulgur, rice, orzo or boiled potatoes and, if you have it, a steamed green vegetable.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 20 minutes
Makes: Two servings

1 medium carrot, cut into about two-inch-long, 1/2-inch-wide sticks

2 (5-to 6- oz./140-to 170 g) halibut fillets (see Note and Eric’s options)

1 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

10 to 12 black or green olives (see Eric’s options)

• walnut halves or pieces, to taste (optional)

1 Tbsp orange juice

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground coriander seed (see Eric’s options)

• pinch ground cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• chopped fresh parsley, cilantro or mint, or thinly sliced green onion, to taste

1 tsp honey (optional)

Place carrots in a small pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil two to three minutes, until carrots just become tender, then drain well. Cool carrots with ice-cold water, then drain well again.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush the bottom of a shallow baking dish, large enough to hold the fish with some space around it, with 1 tsp olive oil. Set the fish in the baking dish. Surround fish with the carrots, olives and walnuts, if using.

Combine remaining 2 tsp olive oil and juices in a small bowl. Drizzle mixture over fish and other items in the dish.

In a second small bowl, combine cumin, coriander, pepper, salt, cayenne (or red pepper flakes) and lemon zest. Sprinkle this mixture on the fish and other items in the dish. Season everything with salt and black pepper.

Bake fish 12 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Drizzle everything in the dish with the honey, if using. Sprinkle everything with parsley (or cilantro, mint or green onion) and serve.

Note: Grocery stores are currently selling fresh halibut fillets prepackaged. So you may need to buy a larger 280- to 340-gram piece and cut it into the two portions for this recipe.

Eric’s options: This recipe could easily be doubled and baked in a larger dish. If you’re only feeding one, simply halve the ingredient amounts and use a smaller baking dish or other ovenproof pan. If you don’t have ground coriander, try another type of spice, to taste, such as ground fennel seed, ginger or cardamom. If you don’t have olives, try capers, to taste. Two halibut steaks that are similar in weight will also work in this recipe. If can’t find halibut for sale, other types of fish, such as salmon, snapper or cod fillets, will also work in this recipe.

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

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