Monday, January 24, 2011

Potato perfection

I've made this dish about 5 times in the past and it's always turned out perfect and is quite impressive visually so works well if you are entertaining. I got it from a book called "Allergy Free Cookbook" by Alice Sherwood. I highly recommend it. Each recipe has modifications for egg free, dairy free, gluten free and nut free variations. It provides details on all the substitutions and there are lots of delicious recipes that you could serve anyone and they would never know it was allergy free specifically. The recipe I refer to is Potato Crusted Halibut and it requires minimal preparation, minimal ingredients and minimal attendance after the first 5 mins of cooking so if you have guests, you can actually spend time with them versus being chained to the oven for the duration of the evening with your hair getting progressively more like a birds nest and your cheeks getting redder due to the hot oven and the copious amounts of wine consumed in order to cope with the stress of cooking for others. Unless of course, you are not keen on your guests and actually WANT to hide in the kitchen under the guise of "cooking". In which case, I suggest you make pasta. From scratch.
There are only 2 main ingredients in this dish, plus oil for cooking and salt and pepper which I don't count as ingredients in their own right although depending on what you are doing with them and the type of each you are using, it could make or break some recipes so I shouldn't be so blase about it. But you get what I am saying.
Potatoes and halibut fillets are the two main players. In fact, I'm sure any firm white fish such as cod, haddock, sea bass etc would work too. I personally LOVE halibut as it's so moist, tasty and it's hard to overcook.

Potato topped Halibut

1-2 large potatoes, unpeeled and grated
2-4 fillets of halibut, thick rather than flat, approx 5-7 oz each
2 tbsp flavourless oil for cooking (with a high smoke point-NOT EV olive oil)

Preheat over to 400F.

The dish is simple but must be executed well. There are 2 key steps that must be done perfectly for this dish to be a success.
First and most importantly of all the potato, once grated (and I suggest a coarse grating with long strokes), must be thoroughly squeezed of excess moisture. And by thoroughly, I mean, get as much out as you think possible and then go back and do it all again. My suggested method is to take a handful of potato shreddings and squeeze with your bare hands a few times, lay the potato on to a few layers of paper towel and lay some more on top and press down. Repeat this with fresh pieces of paper towel a couple of times. It's amazing how much liquid keeps coming out. When I say amazing, I mean, sort of frustrating because you think you are almost done but you lay another piece of paper towel on and clearly you have not squeezed nearly hard enough. Squeeze like you are trying to get blood from a stone!
If the potato is not dry enough, it won't crisp up and let's face it, the potato is the star of the dish, the halibut is merely a vessel on which to showcase the wonderful-ness of crispy shredded potato bits.
Once your potato shreddings are suitably squeezed and squished of excess moisture (give them one more squeeze anyway), season the fish with salt and pepper and press a thick layer of potato on the top of the fillets. I like to leave the skin on the fillets and crisp it up in the pan but if you prefer you can remove it. I put the skip side down and out the potato on the non-skin side.
Once that is done, you can heat up the oil very hot in the pan. Now comes the second part that requires precision and perfect execution. Using 2 suitable spatulas or similar utensils, lay the fillets potato side down in the pan with hot oil.

I usually test the hotness of the oil by throwing in an escapee shred of potato and if it sizzles, the pan is ready. This is one of my all time favourite foodie sounds along with my previously mentioned ones which are 1) the first pour of a bottle of wine and 2) mustard seeds pop-pop- popping. Let cook for 3-4 mins until browned but not burned. Stay close and carefully check by lifting the fillet a little so you can see underneath. you may also want to station an extra body by the smoke detector as it may go off. You will then need your 2 flippers again and turn the fillet over to cook the skin side for again 3-4 minutes to crisp the skin (if it's still there!). Remove fillets from pan and place on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 400F for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through.
The recipe calls to serve this with roasted beets. I have served it with the beets and another time with maple glazed carrots and parsnips. On this occasion, PB and myself assembled a stellar salad containing arugula, spinach, avocado, balsamic mushrooms, tomato, red onion and a dijon maple dressing. We also upped the veggie quota with one of PB's specialty dishes, steamed broccoli and carrots with garlic and ginger, on the side. It was quite a feast of colours, flavours, textures and nutrients. We both agreed it was a rather fantastic meal for a weeknight but that's they way us foodists roll....(warm freshly baked homemade roll, of course)

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