Dinner is my favorite meal, both to eat and to cook. I am positive this is because of how I was raised. Dinner was ceremony. Around 6:00 each night, martini in hand, Dad would start his kitchen ministrations--readying coals on the grill, boiling water, mixing sauces. Around 7pm we would get the call to set the table. Placemats, cloth napkins, fork on the left and knife on the right, dinner plates heated in the oven. Salt and pepper? Dad would call from the kitchen. Check. Candles? Check. Serving spoons? Hot plates? Check, check. From 7:30 to 8:30pm each night the four of us sat down for dinner without distraction. We were not allowed to answer the phone. There was no TV on in the background. We ate and we talked. This is where I learned how my parents met, that my mom once lived with 3 men in a basement apartment that had only a curtain separating the bathroom from the kitchen (scandal!), that my Dad wrestled an octopus in the Pacific Ocean. It was at the oval table over a favorite meal of steak, peas and couscous that my sister and I had our first sips of wine, that we admitted to a bad grade on a test or being asked to the prom. Could we go? There have been phases in my life where the formality of dinner has fallen by the wayside. But a day without the punctuation of a dinner lovingly prepared and shared sends me to bed wanting. The plates of my childhood are what I think of as a three part plate, a plate anchored by an animal protein and rounded out by a "starch" and a vegetable. These days my dinner plates don't always take that form and animal protein is not always the focal point. But this past Sunday night, craving comfort food, I found myself planning a three part plate in my head. Pete requested fish--a food absent from his diet in Argentina this past month--and, though I did not have a martini in hand, around 6pm, I started the happy task of boiling water, salting a halibut filet, zesting lemons and washing salad greens. This time, Pete set the table.
Slow Roasted Halibut with Fennel-Lemon Oil
(barely) adapted from the improvisational cook
One pound filet of halibut, skin on
3 T olive oil plus extra for brushing
1 t fennel seeds
1 two inch piece of lemon zest
salt and pepper
lemon wedge to garnish
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and place the fish, skin side down in the dish. Brush the top of the filet with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant. Add the olive oil and warm about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and let it all steep.
Cook the fish for 25-30 minutes* until a fork goes through the fattest part of the filet without resistance and the flesh of the fish separates easily from the skin. *Schneider recommends 5 minutes of cooking for each 1/4 inch of thickness of the filet.
Cut the filet in half, lengthwise, and plate. Using a teaspoon, drizzle the infused olive oil and fennel seeds over the top of each filet. Garnish with lemon wedges.
We ate this with salad from the garden and rice spiked with blood orange and smoked paprika. I also threw some sliced fennel I had in the fridge and a sliced onion into a baking dish with a little butter and let them slow roast at the same time as the fish.