Poached Halibut with Crispy Artichoke Hearts and Sherry Tomato Vinaigrette

I don’t know how to break this to you, but I’ve gone Paleo. (For those of you who don’t know, Paleo is a diet that consists mainly of fish, grass-fed meats, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, and refined sugar, more info here) I know it’s completely crazy to hear that coming from me, an anti-dieter who truly believes that people should eat whatever they feel like, but I’ve decided to give this Paleo thing a try for 30 days as a little food challenge for myself.

Before you go and delete your Linzertorte’s bookmark (I know you want to, stop it) listen up: I promise not to turn this blog into a preachy sandbox in support of a popular diet. In fact, I’m probably going to whine more than I preach considering I’m already miserable at the thought of a month without hummus, blue cheese, or beer. (And why oh why did I start this on the day that my girl scout cookies arrived?? Apparently I wanted to torture myself) I guess I should announce from the get-go that I’m probably going to cheat a lot, so I hope that’s okay with you.

The good news for you is that the next 4 recipes are going to be extra awesome because I’m going to try to trick myself into forgetting that I can’t have butter or cheese by making really really ridiculously good food.

So, without further ado, here’s my first Paleo recipe and a song by Cave Singers, the band who’s name sounds the most like the philosophy behind my new little food challenge.

Cave Singers – New Monument

A note about this recipe: you’re poaching this fish in oil. I was terrified by this technique at first, convinced my fish was going to come out greasy, but the fish was super moist and after a quick blot with a paper towel, it wasn’t oily at all.

Here’s “Why Poach in Oil?” From Cooks Illustrated:

“Poaching in oil allows fish to retain more of its juices than poaching in wine or broth, leading to remarkably moist, velvety results. This is because cooking in oil is inherently more gentle than cooking in water. And while you might expect that fish poached in fat would be greasy, it actually absorbs very little oil. Why? In order for oil to penetrate the fish, moisture must exit first. But because oil and water repel each other, it’s very difficult for moisture inside the fish to readily enter the oil. Hence, more of the juices stay in the fish. In fact, in our tests, oil-poached fish lost just 14 percent of its weight during cooking, while water-poached fillets lost 24 percent.”

Poached Fish Fillets with Sherry-Tomato Vinaigrette
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, January 2012

4 (6-ounce) skinless white fish fillets , 1 inch thick (I used halibut)
Kosher salt
4 ounces frozen artichoke hearts , thawed, patted dry, and sliced in half lengthwise
¾ cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves , minced
1/2 onion , peeled

Vinaigrette & Garnish
4 ounces cherry tomatoes
½ small shallot , peeled
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
Kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 ounces cherry tomatoes , cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

For the Fish:

Adjust oven racks to middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season each fillet with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Heat 1/2 cup oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add artichokes to skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Strain oil through fine-mesh strainer into bowl. Transfer artichokes and garlic to ovenproof paper towel–lined plate and season with salt. Keep the strainer out.

Return strained oil to skillet and add remaining ¼ cup oil. Place onion half in center of pan (this is just to displace the oil, you can use a porcelain ramekin in its place) Let oil cool until it registers about 180 degrees, 5 to 8 minutes. Arrange fish fillets, skinned side up, around onion (oil should come roughly halfway up fillets). Spoon a little oil over each fillet, cover skillet, transfer to the oven’s middle rack, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven. Using 2 spatulas, carefully flip fillets. Cover skillet, return to middle rack, and place plate (remove paper towel) with artichokes and garlic on lower-middle rack.

Continue to cook fish until it registers 130 to 135 degrees, 9 to 14 minutes longer. Gently transfer fish to serving platter, reserving 1/2 cup oil, and tent fish loosely with aluminum foil. Turn off oven, leaving plate of artichokes in oven.

For the Vinaigrette:

Process whole cherry tomatoes, shallot, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper with reserved 1/2 cup fish cooking oil in blender until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add any accumulated fish juice from platter, season with salt to taste, and blend for 10 seconds. Strain sauce through fine-mesh strainer and discard solids.

To serve, pour vinaigrette around fish. Garnish each fillet with warmed crisped artichokes and garlic, parsley, and remaining cherry tomato rounds. Serve immediately.

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