Weekday poached white fish with wine and lemon

It’s halibut season in Vancouver! Seeing a gorgeous fillet of halibut at the store, I decided to make my favourite quick white fish recipe as it was a weekday and I wanted dinner on the table in 30min. And, I had a tasty bottle of Viognier in the wine fridge, so there was that too. I love this recipe so much because it is simple (unlike Ottolenghi) and tastes clean with bright flavours of lemon balanced with the richness of the butter. I served it with some roasted broccoli.

Halibut is a large flatfish that is caught as part of the groundfish fishery in BC. It’s caught together with other species like lingcod, Pacific cod, and sablefish. Basically all the white, flakey fish that is a favourite of the North American palate. Fishing for halibut in BC used to be done derby-style. This means that there was a total allowable catch (TAC) for the season and once the fishing season opened, all fishers would rush out to competitively catch as much halibut as possible for themselves before the collective TAC was reached. This wasn’t ideal because not only was it dangerous for the fishermen who would go out to sea whether conditions were good or not, working overtime with little sleep in an effort to catch as much as possible, but it was also not great for the market which would get flooded with large quantities of halibut all at once, driving prices down. Now, halibut is caught according to an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system where the total catch is divided amongst a number of vessels before the season. They each have their individual quota to fill, and can take their time fishing throughout the season to fill this quota. Halibut caught in BC is sustainable due to the strict management of the fishery, and especially when caught by bottom longline which does not cause cause physical harm to the ocean floor. The ITQ system is not perfect though, and if you’d like to read more about it, you can do so here.

Alright that being said, you don’t have to use halibut for this dish. Any white fish will work. Just make sure you cook it less if it’s a thinner fillet. I like making halibut this way as poaching ensures that it doesn’t dry out. And believe me it is easy to overcook halibut. I’ll only make it this way at home as a non professional cook.

Ingredients

  • Fillets of white fish, deboned
  • Salt
  • Lemon
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • Herbs (I used chives)

Method

  1. In a heavy pan, heat up some olive oil at medium heat. While heating, salt the fillets on both side. Then gently place in pan when hot. Do not touch or move the fillets and for the love of god, don’t flip them yet. Leave the fish alone to cook until you observe that the opaqueness of the fillet indicating that it’s cooked, is almost halfway through the fillet, maybe one third up. THEN flip. Cook a couple minutes more on the other side. It doesn’t have to be completely cooked yet as we’re not done.
  2. Add in your herbs (I like thyme, but here I used chives), squeeze lemon juice over the fillets, and finally add a generous amount of butter and baste your fillets with it as it melts.
  3. Then add a glug of white wine to the pan and cover. Let it bubble for a couple minutes, by which time the fish is probably done, uncover and voila! Your fish is done in under 30min.

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