If I tell you about any more dishes from M. Pépin's "Essential Pépin," I'm going to have to start paying him royalties.
Luckily, this dish was inspired by him but not copied from him. I wanted to make the recipe as he recommended but, as often is the case with me, I didn't have all the ingredients. So I winged it. So sue me.
Jacques calls it "Halibut Antibes-Style" and it sounded delish to me, but I was missing kalamata olives and fresh basil. I did have picholine olives, however, so I subbed them in, cutting out the pits before adding them to the dish. Also, M. Pépin is willing to broil his fish and then add separately made sauce; because I'm too lazy to dirty a second pan, I just pan-poached the fish right in the sauce.
Halibut is a mild fish and one that is easily overcooked, leaving it dry and pretty darn tasteless, but if you cook it just right, it's seafood heaven. If I do say so myself, this time I got it right. The fish divided easily along the curved muscle lines, but was still wonderfully moist. No question that I will make this again and again. It was not only delicious but the colorful sauce was as cheerful as a fiesta.
Fiesta Fish, inspired by the great Jacques Pépin
2 portions of halibut, about 4-6 oz each (I used fillets, JP uses steaks)
1- 4 oz can chopped tomatoes (I'm not above using canned tomatoes when fresh ones are out of season; I'd far rather have a good canned one than a tasteless, cardboardy, unripe one)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves (I left mine whole)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, leaves only (this was my substitute for the fresh basil I didn't have)
3-4 Tablespoons water
10 picholine olives, pitted and sliced
salt, pepper to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil
In a wide frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and quickly sauté the onion and garlic, until softened, just a few minutes. Add the herbs and cook until their scents rise to fill your nose with flavors. Add the chopped tomatoes and a little water, cooking all together for just a few minutes, tasting and adding salt and pepper to your liking.
When the sauce is a little reduced, push it aside and lay the fish, skin side down, in the middle of the pan. There should be some juice under the fish - if there isn't any, add a tad more water. Let the fish cook for just 2-3 minutes, then flip it while it is still firm and, sliding a spatula under the skin, remove and discard it.
Cover the pan with a tight lid and let it steam/poach in the sauce for about five more minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish, testing frequently for that moment when the sections separate easily but are still glistening with moisture inside, and the fish gives a little when pressed with a finger.
When the fish is ready, remove it to plates and add the olives to the sauce for just long enough to heat them through, then pile the sauce onto the fish and serve.