Get your butcher to cut a two- or three-inch-thick steak, cut from just below the gills of a full-size fresh halibut. It’s called a centre cut steak.
You might have to pay him extra, and halibut is already expensive, but tell him you need one or two-inch “nuggets” cut from that steak. Ask him to remove the skin first. When you get the fresh, never frozen fish nuggets home, check for any missed bones. Remove with tweezers or needle-nose pliers. Check carefully using your fingers.
When ready to cook, sprinkle the nuggets with ground pepper, crushed thyme, just a pinch of garlic powder, a little minced fresh dill and a bit of paprika. No salt. You can salt when the fish is cooked.
I only deep fry in Mazola Corn Oil. I am aware of the situation with corn genetic engineering, but it is still the best oil for this purpose. Mazola is cholesterol free.
Never fill your pot more than half full of oil. Never! And never cover to speed up the heating process. Do not ever leave the stove when deep-frying, not even for a minute.
There should be no reason to fear deep-frying, but common sense needs to be in place constantly. Get everything you need organized ahead of time. You don’t want to go looking for the slotted spoon when it’s time to use it. Mis en place.
In another recipe, I noted that I keep an old, real wool thick blanket tucked away in my kitchen within easy reach of the stove. If you ever experience a stovetop kitchen fire, place the wool blanket over the stovetop. The wool helps smother the flames and is slow to burn, but the blanket must be real wool, not synthetic. A fire extinguisher in the kitchen is ideal, but you must be able to lift it and know how to use it. If you need it, that’s no time to start reading instructions.
Reserve a special pot only for deep-frying, even if you don’t use it often. Heat your deep fry oil in a heavy, enamel-coated, cast-iron pot if you don’t have a deep fryer, while you prepare your batter. Test the oil for 350 F or by dropping in a cube of bread.
Prepare your favourite batter. I like to use my Chinese shrimp batter, so easy to make and always has a consistent result. It’s a little like a tempura batter. The batter looks a little like thick pancake prep but it poofs in the hot oil and gets to a beautiful golden colour quickly and the very light finished texture is wonderful. Most things are cooked when the batter turns golden. Refer to my deep-fried vegetables and even deep-fried ice cream.
Carefully deep fry a few nuggets at a time, turning with a slotted spoon. Remove the nuggets from the hot oil as soon as the batter gets to a beautiful golden colour on all sides. Keep turning them so the nuggets cook consistently.
The halibut is very fragile and cooks quickly. Remember, the fish will continue cooking in its own heat while resting. Absolutely do not overcook.
Drain on a paper towel. (Never use the brown paper towel sheets in your kitchen.) Sprinkle the deep-fried halibut nuggets with lots of salt. If you like, sprinkle with sweet paprika and/or cayenne.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the nuggets just before serving, or add a tiny pot of fresh lemon zest to each serving plate, along with lemon wedges so people can serve themselves.
If you enjoy a dipper sauce, use your favourite. For me, a dab of Dijon works nicely. Even on the second day for leftovers.
The halibut nuggets will melt in your mouth. A true gourmet delight.
Serve with fresh, thick, sliced tomatoes and crispy iceberg lettuce drizzled with my warm blue cheese dressing.
Another time, marinate the halibut steak and leave it in one piece. Marinate for 20 minutes before grilling or pan frying.
For fresh wonderful marinade, whisk a third cup of your favourite oil with a third cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a quarter cup of finely chopped fresh parsley, a pinch of dried thyme, a tiny bit of mustard and fresh ground pepper. No salt. Stir in a teaspoon of very finely chopped onion or green onion.
Pour it over the halibut steak. Turn once only in the marinade.
When ready to grill or pan fry, dab the steak with paper towel to soak up a little of the marinade and dry off the steak.
Pan fry quickly on medium high heat in butter only. There’s enough oil on the fish from the marinade. You can also grill the whole halibut steak. It cooks very quickly. Or you can barbecue the halibut steak in a papillote.
Serve with a beautiful choice of fresh thinly sliced cucumber that you have salted and rinsed, and fresh, chopped, dill in sour cream, or thinly sliced peppery radishes marinated briefly in salt, pepper and white balsamic vinegar. No oil.
Dredge the halibut steak in seasoned flour. Tap off excess flour. Dip the whole steak in egg wash. Then lay the large steak in a tray of homemade breadcrumbs. Cover completely. (This doesn’t work well with store-bought crumbs.)
You will want to move quickly. Pan fry in butter and oil mix, or barbecue using a special grill sheet.
You might find a tall glass of your favourite beer or a cool glass of white wine is a good pairing.
Roast that large mouth bass
If it’s bass fishing season, you might like to check out my 1970s newspaper column Gourmet Cooking with Carolyne recipe for large-mouth bass:
After you have cleaned your catch, store it at home in the coldest part of the fridge, in double tinfoil that is not completely sealed, until you are ready to cook. Let it air-breathe.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rinse three to four pounds of fish under very cold running water and sprinkle with lots of lemon juice, inside and out.
Salt with freshly ground sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a tablespoon of herb butter inside the belly and two more tablespoons in the roasting pan. Place the fish on its side in the pan, where you have completely covered the bottom of the pan with sliced raw lemons and onion slices.
Pop into the oven and baste every 10 minutes with the melted butter in the bottom of the pan.
Allow about a half hour to 40 minutes roasting time. Just 10 minutes before removing it from the oven, add a cup of Winzertanz.
The whole fish is cooked when it flakes. Rest, tented, before serving.
Arrange the whole bass on a bed of fresh parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve the roasted lemons and onions and pan drippings in a separate wide soup plate on a charger.
Stuffed with a seasoned breadcrumb mix, multi-coloured roasted cherry tomatoes are a pretty addition and tasty, too.
If you would enjoy a dipping cream, while the bass is roasting prepare cream sauce, scalding two cups of half-and-half cream in a skillet where you have sautéed a very finely chopped white onion in butter.
Sprinkle the sautéed onions with fresh ground pepper, a little, fresh only, chopped mint and a tiny bit of dried thyme and just a pinch of nutmeg. Add a half cup of chopped dry parsley. Salt only after the onions are cooked.
You don’t want the butter to brown and you want the onions only al dente. Deglaze the skillet with a half cup of Winzertanz and reduce until there is only a tablespoon of liquid in the skillet with the onions.
Add the cream and scald. Allow it to rise and fall three times to thicken. Reserve the cream with the finely chopped onions, in a gravy boat, for those who would enjoy. Place a small ladle on the boat saucer.
By the way, this onion cream keeps beautifully in the fridge in a covered glass container for several days. Can be used in many ways. Great addition to savoury crepes or omelettes, too.
Chinese shrimp batter
2 whole eggs
2 cups bottled water
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon white sugar
3 cups flour
(Note: no salt)
In a small bowl or cup, gently whisk the eggs and water together. Put all the other ingredients into a large bowl. Add the eggs/water mix to the dry ingredients using a fork.
Let the batter rest briefly. This batter works wonderfully with many things, deep-fried in 350 F oil. See my other deep-fry recipes.
Any of this group of fish dish recipes pairs beautifully with
French onion soup ~ English style
Sauté in unsalted butter, four cups of uniformly horizontally sliced onions until they are just barely al dente. Sprinkle with crushed dry thyme and a pinch of nutmeg, salt and fresh ground pepper and a generous bay leaf. Stir in a quarter teaspoon golden brown sugar (not more, because you don’t want sweet soup); the sugar is just meant to enhance the natural sweetness of the onions, and add just a little drop of good maple syrup (try substituting my Asbach Uralt brandy figgy marinating jus).
Deglaze the skillet with a half cup of Asbach Uralt cognac or a very good Sauvignon Blanc; you could even use port for a totally different taste. For something a little different deglaze the skillet using beer; Belgian Stella or Molson Ex works. For me, I prefer to deglaze using the cognac, and just when nearly ready to serve, add a tablespoon of port.
Add four cups of homemade strong full-flavoured beef broth, ideally a consommé made from beef bones browned, seared, then roasted in the oven with vegetables and a small piece of whole garlic (it will poach in the broth), and reduce the broth to strengthen the flavour. Strain the broth and clean it the typical way you make consommé, with egg shells or egg whites.
You could strain the broth through clean, never used, cheesecloth, using a sieve and remove the bay leaf. Adjust salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of my Italian blue plum German conserve mixed with mashed macerated, marinated in brandy black mission figs, or use your favourite gourmet store brand. For something totally different, instead of the conserve, stir in a tablespoon of homemade kumquat marmalade.
Serve with little fresh, crisp, crostini paddles as dippers, open-face, smeared with a little roasted garlic puree, or rub with raw garlic, broiled with fresh Parmesan cheese grated over top. Try putting a slice of mozzarella cheese on the crostini, sprinkled with finely grated dry Parmesan granules, and broil. Very yum!
It’s the best french onion soup (English style), ever… you will repeat this recipe often. This soup keeps well for a day or two refrigerated, in a covered glass or stainless-steel container and can be frozen. If you freeze it, separate the onions from the broth in an airtight container, or they will get water-logged as they thaw. Add back the frozen onions to the hot broth just before serving.
Strain the onions out of the broth and pulse the onions in your kitchen machine. Add back the broth. Scald two cups of half-and-half cream. Let the cream rise and fall three times to reduce nicely. Gently whisk the onion thickened broth into the hot cream. Excellent french onion soup, English style, as a cream of onion soup. Really quite special.
For either version: Place a thin slice of mozzarella cheese on top of the cold onion soup. Cut a frozen puff pastry round, about a generous inch larger than the serving bowl width. Sprinkle the pastry with crushed fresh thyme leaves, a little salt and pepper. Paint the outer round edge of the puff pastry with egg wash.
Tip the pastry round over top of each soup bowl at room temperature. Pat the extra egg washed edge tight up against the outside edge of the bowl. Brush the pastry soup-cover with slightly beaten egg yolk.
You might want to refrigerate the pastry covered bowls briefly to protect the puff pastry. (It’s made with butter. Don’t let the pastry get warm.) Place the pastry covered oven-proof soup bowls on a cookie sheet that has a rim, in a very hot preheated oven at 400 F, until the pastry puffs and takes on a golden colour. The pastry will puff in about eight minutes. Serve immediately, very hot.
You can make the soup ahead of time, refrigerate and just add the cheese and the pastry and bake it when you are ready to eat it. Put your under-soup bowl plate on a big charger plate with a paper doily under the bowl. An amazing presentation with the puffed pastry high above the bowl. We first eat with our eyes and it adds to the taste. When ready to enjoy, pierce the puff pastry with a large round soup spoon, and listen for the compliments.
© From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks – Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience