One of the things I enjoy most in the kitchen is cooking without a recipe. My Freestyle Kitchen posts reflect that free spirit: all the ingredients and what I did with them are described without a formal recipe, and the photographs are quick snaps on my phone. This Halibut Poached in Vegetable Broth shows the goodness that happens when inspiration and freestyle marry up.
I very much enjoy the Gusto television network, with its quality food programming, not to mention truly interesting home and renovation shows (never mind a kitchen reno in Vancouver; no, this station is all about refurbished centuries-old castles in the UK). The food shows on Gusto are a pleasure to watch, as they largely focus on teaching cooking in ways innovative and inspiring to me.
The other day I caught an episode of Cooking with Martha (Stewart, that is) where she demonstrated how to poach cod in a flavourful broth with lots of vegetables. Although I only had half my attention on the show while I was doing other things, the dish lingered on my mind. Guess what I made for dinner this evening? Indeed, my own riff on this dish. Thank you for the inspiration, Martha!
Real Life in the Kitchen
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Freestyle Kitchen post, and in case this format is new to you, it’s where I simply describe something that I made without a recipe and sometimes with precious little measuring. There aren’t any fancy photos either, but I try to snap a couple of pics with my phone before digging in. Of course, real life in the kitchen means I don’t usually write down what I’m doing, so I try to go straight from the table to the computer before I forget what I did!
In short, Freestyle Kitchen is the story of real life in the kitchen.
Halibut Poached in Vegetable Broth
So, no cod was to be had at the market this afternoon, but they did have halibut. At $29.99 a pound, I quickly decided that half a pound would do quite nicely, and even then I still divided that into two portions. At $15.50 for the fish alone and about $20 in total with the rest of the ingredients, this was expensive for a two-serving homemade meal, but considering the quality of the ingredients and weighed against the cost of a restaurant meal, it seems reasonable on occasion. In future, I might try a less expensive fish than halibut, but it was a treat.
The fish was nicely done to my liking, the broth was rich and full of flavour, and the vegetables brought brightness and crunch to the the bowl. This is definitely something I would make again, and a dish that could be adapted for a variety of flavour profiles.
Here’s how I pulled it all together (bearing in mind that it’s taking me longer to write about it than to actually make the meal — that only took about 30 minutes!).
Let’s Make Poached Halibut
Start by cutting the halibut into portions, if necessary (mine were about 4 ounces each), and generously seasoning with kosher salt and pepper. Set the fish aside while getting on with the rest of the ingredients. Thinly slice one shallot and a small halved and seeded red chili pepper. Next, cut and peel two thin medallions of ginger. Up next: peel and slice one carrot thinly (about 1/8 inch) on the diagonal. Cut a medium fennel bulb in half lengthwise and then slice it about a 1/4 inch thick or less. Reserve some of the fennel fronds for a la-di-da garnish if you’re feeling fancy.
Put a medium-sized pot on the stove over medium high heat and add a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. When the oil is fragrant, add the shallots, chili and ginger. Stir well, then add the carrots and fennel. Sprinkle in a good pinch or two of salt and a good grinding of black pepper, then add 1/2 cup of white wine, followed by 1-1/2 to 2 cups of broth. (I used organic vegetable broth and Martha used chicken broth; it’s up to you.) Add the leaves of two small bunches of basil, and two strips of orange zest (about 1/2 inch wide and a couple of inches long) — remember, fennel and orange are good buddies. Slice a small punnet of mini tomatoes in half, and add about two thirds to the cooking pot. Oh, if after tasting you decide some more pizzazz is in order, you could toss in 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes, like I did. (Of course, you don’t need me to tell you to taste the broth a couple of times and add a little bit of this ‘n that as needed to adjust the flavour.) Cover the pot and bring the broth and vegetable mixture to a very strong simmer, but not a hard boil.
Nestle the fish into the broth, keeping it upright and cover the pot again, lowering the heat to a less vigorous simmer. My fish was about 1-1/2 inches thick, and I set the timer for six minutes in total. About two minutes before your fish should be cooked, add in a few handfuls of snow peas that you’ve trimmed and cut on the diagonal.
When the timer goes off, remove the fish carefully with tongs and set aside on a plate. Ladle the vegetables and broth into shallow bowls, then add the fish, garnishing with the aforementioned fennel fronds. Don’t forget to place the reserved tomatoes around the fish.
And voila, dinner!
Let me add a non disclosure of sorts: I may be a big fan of Gusto, but I’m pretty sure they’ve never heard of me.
Looking for More Freestyle Kitchen Dishes?
The fun and breezy freestyle approach to cooking without a recipe isn’t reserved for entrées — there’s a freestyle dessert among these suggestions too! Why not rustle up one of these satisfying dishes soon: Pomegranate Chicken Thighs with Kale & Grain Salad; Strawberry Rhubarb Coconut Crisp Parfait; and Sausage, Potato & Onion Dinner.
First Published 2016 10 28
Republished 2021 01 17