This fish dish gives the impression that you’ve been laboring in the kitchen. Poached halibut set on top of a bed of polenta and a red pepper sauce. Looks complicated. But looks can be deceiving. What’s appealing about this dish is the simplicity of using only four ingredients, if you don’t count salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. The unadulterated flavor of fresh corn, raw red pepper and fish has decidedly won me over. Now I’m inspired to find similar dishes like this. Simple and quick preparation. A handful of ingredients working its magic to elevate all their natural flavors into mouthfuls that surprise and delight. You just don’t expect that in a fish dish.
This recipe comes from Jacques Pepin. I am joining the other home cooks at IHCC this week in showcasing “fast food Jacques’s way.” Other interesting dishes like this one that is done in less than 30 minutes can be found here.
The most winsome of the ingredients, to me, is the fresh corn. I used white corn (Jersey Silver Queen) from the local farmers’ market. I can’t get enough of them when they are at the peak of the summer harvest — juicy, milky and sweet. Clearly, polenta will take on a yellower tone if yellow corn is used.
A quick puree of the corn kernels in the Vitamix followed by a brief 30-second boil in a saucepan with butter was all that’s needed to bring the polenta together. It took me more time cleaning the Vitamix container than making the polenta!
The pepper oil, combining chunks of red bell pepper with olive oil, is also prepared in the blender. It took even less time than making the polenta. Pepin’s recipe calls for peeling the bell pepper with a vegetable peeler. I kept the skin on. First, a quick blend in the Vitamix until the red pepper and olive oil mixture is smooth. No cooking is involved. The pepper oil is then heated up in the microwave before service. No fuss and no sweat!
|White corn gives polenta a whiter color|
|Vibrant red of the pepper oil gives the dish a pop|
Mission critical is poaching the halibut steaks. Other fish that can be substituted in this recipe are: striped bass, swordfish or even salmon. Poaching the fish in boiling water requires no more than two to three minutes. Time can pass in a blink before you realize the halibut steaks become overcooked. Since I’d rather have my fish underdone, I had the skimmer in my hand ready to take the fish out the minute I dropped them in the boiling water. My heart may have skipped a beat. In the end, it’s all worth it.
More than anything else, the key to a successful quick dish is getting the best and freshest raw ingredients. They don’t really need any cooking or my minding them. Going through this recipe, I truly understand and appreciate the notion that less can be more.