By Bonnie S. Benwick
The Washington Post
When it comes to fish, we should all aspire to a chef's touch. Amy Brandwein of Alba Osteria in Washington knows that little things pay off big, such as giving halibut fillets a quick rest with oil and aromatics before treating them to a two-step cooking process.
The chef de cuisine positions the fish toward the edge of the pan instead of dead center, to avoid overcooking. She sears the fillets just until she sees a golden crust underneath before flipping them over and dispatching them, ever so briefly, to the restaurant's wood-fired pizza oven.
Brandwein has a way with sauces, as well. She gets more "agro" (sour) and "dolce" (sweet) action by using large capote capers and golden raisins, and by reducing lemon peel to slivers rather than zest, so more citrus oils are in play. Juice from smoky lemon wedges evokes the outdoors.
Makes 4 servings
1. Pour enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat a large plate. Add a thyme sprig and a smashed garlic clove, turning them to coat. Season four 6-ounce, skinned halibut fillets lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place them on the plate, turning to coat. Let them rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Discard the marinade.
2. Meanwhile, combine 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup golden raisins that have been soaked for a few minutes in very warm water then drained and chopped, 5 teaspoons minced shallot, 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon drained capers (preferably large ones), 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon very finely slivered lemon peel (no pith), and 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar in a bowl. Stir to form a sauce; taste and season lightly with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a few teaspoons of canola oil in an ovenproof skillet over high heat until wisps of smoke appear. Place the fillets skinned side up in the pan, close to the edges. Cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes; the fish should be springy to the touch, with a golden brown crust on the bottom. Gently turn over the fillets. Toss 4 lemon wedges onto the same pan, cut sides down. Transfer the pan to the oven; roast for about 2 minutes or until the halibut is bouncy to the touch -- not too firm. The wedges should have charred edges.
4. While the fillets rest, spoon some sauce at the center of each plate. Arrange a fillet atop each portion of sauce. Spoon a little sauce on top of each piece of fish. Serve right away, with a charred lemon wedge for sprinkling.