One of the perks of an Alaskan spring (rounding out the top three are sunlight and above-zero temperatures) is the abundance of fresh fish. Lot of salmon, of course, but it’s halibut that we are making sure to get our fill of before winter comes around again. A firm, white-fleshed fish with a sweet, un-fishy flavour, it has quickly become one of our favorites and the target of many a fishing trip planned for the summer.
The low fat content of halibut makes it easy to overcook, so we’re gently poaching the fish fillets in a fragrant, coconut curry broth to keep it moist. Served with baby gailan and asparagus, simply stir-fried with garlic, what better way to make use of spring produce?
When it comes to curry, of course it would be great to be able to make your own curry paste from scratch. But given most of us are time-poor, who really wants to be messing around with fresh turmeric, soaking tamarind or roasting shrimp paste. For convenience, we generally find store-bought paste to be fine as a base, and it’s fairly easy to amp up up the flavor with fresh ginger, coriander, garlic, shallots, chili…..anything fresh you have on hand to add some brightness.
Ingredients (serves 2)
- 2 fillets of halibut, ~1lb (450g) total
- 1 red pepper, de-seeded and julienned
- 3tbsp red curry paste
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves picked and reserved, stalks roughly chopped
- 4 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1tsp ground turmeric
- 2 green chili, de-seeded and roughly chopped
- 3tbsp coconut oil
- 2tbsp fish sauce
- 2tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1tsp sugar
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1/2 bunch baby gai lan, washed, stalks separated and halved
- 8 stalks asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into 2-in lengths
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (not crushed, you want some chunks)
- 2tbsp olive oil (peanut oil, if you have it)
- Remove the skin from the halibut, wash, pat dry and set aside.
- Place 1 clove garlic, cilantro stalks, shallots, turmeric and chili into a small food processor. Process until finely chopped, almost paste-like.
- Heat 3tbsp coconut oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat, add the curry paste and garlic/shallot mixture and fry until fragrant (~3mins). Add half a cup of water (the mixture will spit), the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and coconut milk. Adjust the seasoning to taste as the amounts required will depend on the paste you are using.
- Reduce the heat to bring the broth to a simmer, then add the red pepper and nestle the fish fillets into the broth (it will not completely cover the fish). Cover and poach the fish for ~5mins, before flipping over carefully and cooking for a further 3-4 mins or until done. Gently test with a fork to check for done-ness; the flesh should just flake apart when a fork is inserted into the middle of the fillet.
- While the fish is cooking, heat 2tbsp oil in a flat frypan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the finely chopped garlic and fry for ~20 seconds before adding the gai lan and asparagus to the pan. Stir-fry for ~5-6 minutes, spreading the vegetables out over the pan to develop some color, until just tender. The moisture on the washed leaves should generate sufficient steam to help the cooking process along; add a few drops of water if it dries out too quickly, but not too much or the vegetables will stew.
- Divide the fish, red pepper and broth between 2 bowls and serve topped with reserved cilantro leaves and the stir-fried gailan/asparagus.
We arrive in the Emerald city to find a lush, colorful hive of activity; it’s the start of baseball season, the tulips are in bloom and locals are out and about, joining the tourist crowd, taking advantage of a beautiful, sunny weekend. Our trip into town is enlivened by encounters with black-robed Heartless on the Link, a stroller-pushing Wonderwoman on 4th and Dolores Umbridge in the hotel lobby; we’ve also managed to pick Comicon weekend to visit.
First on the agenda is Pike Place Market for a spot of lunch. The daily market is a one-stop shop for fresh produce, arts, crafts and good eats, attracting out-of-towners and Seattleites alike. We duck into Post Alley just off Pike Place, but not before pausing to snap a photo of the iconic public market sign, joining the rest of the tourists negotiating pedestrians and traffic to get that perfect shot.
A long queue extending out into the alleyway marks our destination and we fall into line with other hungry customers waiting to get their fill of hot soup and seafood rolls at Pike Place Chowder. Service is efficient and, with plenty of outdoor seating made available by the good weather, it’s not long before we are tucking into cups of that sought-after chowder. The New England clam chowder is a cheesy mouthful of luxuriously thick, smoky soup, heavy with potato and a generous amount of juicy clam meat. Lobster and bacon make today’s market special a popular choice, a sweeter, lighter-bodied stew but no less indulgent. We’re generous with our garnish of crispy oyster crackers for texture, but aren’t fans of the sourdough, which is rather dry and crumbly, with an acidity that hints at vinegar.
The same sourdough detracts from the dungeness crab rolls, spilling over with fresh, citrus-y crab meat, which would be better partnered with brioche (or is this just Melbourne-influence talking?). You can probably also give the sourdough chowder bowls a miss for the same reason; there are better carbs to be had in this market.
Like food-envy-inducing, Russian pastries from Piroshky Piroshky, for instance. These guys do well to compete with the buttery aroma of fresh croissants wafting through the open doors of Le Panier, but compete they do. This hole-in-the-wall bakery invariably sports a haggle of customers eagerly craning their heads to scope out the day’s wares. With over 20 years of history at Pike Place, expect to see some of the local tastes (hashbrown and bacon, jalapeno cheese and garlic cheddar rolls) mingling with the more traditional. Faced with a snap decision and customers pressing in behind us, we grab one of the coffee and cinnamon rolls to go, before immediately wondering whether cherry and white chocolate or a puff pastry wrapped, whole baked apple would have been a better option. The pastry is heavenly – still warm from the oven (that’s one plus side of queues; high turnover), it’s moist, buttery yellow and finely layered before rolling to pack more coffee and cinnamon into every bite.
Back in the main section of the market, it’s a feast of another kind as we browse the artisan craft stores displaying colorful glass ornaments, ceramics, wood arts and plushie cat donuts (we’re also asking why). Florists have no trouble finding homes for the season’s luminous tulips. Even the fresh produce section is something of a spectacle; enormous, glistening silver salmon and glassy-eyed rockfish, elephant garlic bulbs the size of large grapefruit, striped peppers, dimpled satsumas and giant purple artichokes.
The downstairs portion of the market has a distinct ‘tourist trap’ vibe to it, key giveaways being the souvenir shops hawking Chinese jade decorations, accessories stalls à la Paddy’s, おみやげ emblazoned windows and the occasional whiff of naphthalene. A good point to make our exit and make a start for Pioneer Square to get a lesson in Seattle’s history (to be continued….).