Thursday, June 25, 2009


He might very well grill halibut, that's what.

I was leafing my way through David Tanis's A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes the other day once again, reading up on what he has to say about grilling, when I came across his recipe for Grilled Halibut With Indian Spices.

DT 2 fig. a: leafing through

I'd admired the recipe before, but this time it really clicked. I was in the mood to fire up the barbecue (once again), I was craving seafood, and, hell, I'm always in the mood for "Indian spices." Plus, I'd invited my Mom over for a barbecued meal, and I thought this one might keep her on her toes. Michelle had to work (again), but I asked her if she thought she might like a grilled halibut fillet when she came back home from work that night, and she said, "Uh, yeah, sure." Little did she know what was in store for her.

Grilled Halibut with Indian Spices

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 cloves
1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 halibut fillets, about 6-8 ounces each
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
yogurt sauce (recipe follows)
a small handful of mint leaves

Toast the cumin, coriander, fennel, and cloves in a dry cast-iron pan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and grind until fine. Put the ground spices in a small bowl, add the turmeric and cayenne, and mix until well blended.

Lay the halibut fillets on a baking sheet and season liberally with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the fish, and, using your hands, massage it in. Cover and refrigerate the fillets for up to several hours (although 2 hours worked just fine). Bring the fish to room temperature before cooking, about half an hour.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal barbecue. Grill the halibut over medium coals 3-4 minutes per side, until just opaque throughout.

Arrange the halibut on a large platter and surround with the cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt. Spoon a little yogurt sauce onto each portion and pass the rest at the table. Sliver the mint leaves with a sharp knife and scatter over the plate.

serves 4

Raita is a natural with these grilled halibut fillets. Tanis's raita is a little on the new-fangled side (e.g. olive oil), but don't knock it till you try it. The grated ginger is a particularly inspired touch.

David's Raita

1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp finely grated ginger
1/2 serrano pepper, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Put the yogurt in a bowl. In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the garlic and let it sizzle briefly, making sure it doesn't brown, about 10 seconds or so.

Scrape the contents of the pan into the yogurt. Stir in the ginger and chile. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. The sauce will keep in the fridge for a day or two, but it tastes best freshly made, and once you've tasted it, you'll have a hard time keeping it around for a day or two.

DT fig. b: yellow medley

These recipes come from a menu Tanis calls "yellow hunger," and, as this name suggests, it's meant to be a composition in shades of yellow, with the halibut a vibrant yellow-orange. Sweet yellow tomatoes (cherry or not) haven't appeared on the scene here in Montreal yet (at least not local ones), so we recommend going the sweetest red cherry tomatoes you can find. Tanis accompanies his halibut with a gorgeous salad of shaved summer squashes and squash blossoms, but they too have not yet arrived. So I broke up the yellow theme a bit by grilling some fennel, and roasting some potatoes using the Zuni Cafe method (I did use Yukon golds as my potatoes, though). The medley of yellow idea is a nice one, but Tanis encourages his readers not to be slavish:
This is a book of recipes and menus, but I hope what it is, too, is a book about cooking by instinct--improvisational, the sort of cooking that doesn't need a recipe.

Free your mind and your food will follow, or something to that effect.

All I know is that halibut has rarely tasted this good and that the meal was a huge hit. You should have seen the look on Michelle's face when she sat down to the spread before her.


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