When the Deadliest Catch first aired, I watched with morbid curiosity as the crews manhandled heavy metal cages. Those cages sometimes swung wildly in the air, smashing against the ship's bulkhead, threatening to hospitalize crew members.
Many times, risking life and limb did not have the hoped for payoff when the cages contained the ocean's odds and ends rather than the prized catch of Alaskan king crab. When luck was with them, a cage would be filled with crabs, their pointed, armored legs poking out at any hand that risked a close encounter.
After that, when I ordered a crab cocktail I had newfound respect for my food. The crab meat might be delicate and sweet, but the effort it took to snatch it from the icy, turbulent ocean was marked by sweat, fear and danger. On so many levels, when I am cooking or about to eat, I am happy to be ignorant of the difficult work it takes to get the food from ocean or farm to my table.
Recently, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute made it easy for me. They offered to send a box of Alaska seafood for me to prepare and write about. Certainly I had bought, cooked and eaten Alaskan seafood before because it is available from local purveyors big (Ralphs and Gelson's) and small (Malibu Seafood).
From the extensive seafood available in Alaskan waters, I was offered king crab (how could I refuse!), halibut, cod, salmon and scallops. When the samples arrived, I happily opened the super-sized box to find the two pound vacuum packed packages of seafood perfectly chilled by dry ice and freezer packs.
I began my Alaskan adventure with the halibut.
Halibut with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Spinach and Shiitake Mushrooms
A thick filet can be cut into smaller pieces or prepared whole, which in this instance, meant a piece just under two pounds in weight. I liked the idea of cooking the filet whole and then slicing manageable pieces for serving.
A key ingredient is the roasted tomato sauce. You can certainly buy canned sauce, but homemade roasted tomato sauce is wonderfully easy to make, tastes much better than any commercial version and can be prepared and refrigerated several days in advance or frozen weeks or even months before using.
2 pounds halibut filet
1 bunch spinach, roots removed, washed to remove grit
4 large ripe tomatoes, washed, stems removed
2 garlic cloves, washed, ends and skins removed, finely chopped
6 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends trimmed and skins removed, roughly chopped
1/4 pound or 6-8 shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, washed and pat dried, roughly chopped or thin sliced
1 tablespoon sweet butter
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with a nonstick Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Bake 1 hour. Remove and let cool.
The liquid in the bottom of the baking tray is a combination of seasoned olive oil and a clear liquid given off by tomatoes when they cook. Set up a food mill or a fine mesh stainer over a non-reactive bowl. Pour the olive oil-tomato liquid into the food mill/strainer and add the cooked tomatoes.
Press the tomatoes through the mill/strainer, using a rubber spatula to collect all of the pulp on the bottom side of the mill/strainer. Discard the seeds and skin or use with other ingredients to make a delicious vegetable stock.
Place the roasted tomato sauce aside in a sealed container. If not used immediately, refrigerate up to several days or freeze.
Defrost, wash and pat dry the halibut and set aside.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Many people discard spinach stems. I prefer to use them. Finely chop the stems and sauté until lightly browned. Add the shiitake mushrooms, onions and garlic and sauté until softened. Roughly chop the spinach leaves and add to the frying pan.
Once the leaves have begun to wilt, add the roasted tomato sauce (between 1 and 1 1/2 cups) and sweet butter. Simmer for ten minutes. Taste and adjust with sea salt and pepper as needed.
The halibut filet can be grilled on a barbecue or sautéed in a frying pan with similar results. If you are using a barbecue, to prevent the fish from sticking, be certain to apply oil to the grill. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil on a paper towel and liberally rub across the grill.
If you are using a frying pan, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on a medium flame.
Using a large metal spatula to carefully lift the fish without leaving any of the flesh behind, lightly brown the filet on both sides.
Place the halibut on a cutting board and carefully slice the filet into large pieces. Place on a serving platter and top with the heated vegetable sauté.
Serve with freshly cooked pasta or rice or with fresh baked French bread.
Along with the vegetables, sauté one piece of bacon, finely chopped, until lightly browned.
For a Spanish style flavor, season the vegetable sauté with 1/2 teaspoon paprika.
For heat, season the vegetable sauté with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.
David Latt is an Emmy-award winning television producer who turns to cooking to alleviate stress. He shares his experiences with food and his favorite recipes on his blog Men Who Like To Cook.
by Libby Segal