Oil Poached Halibut with Gribiche and Poached Eggs

“Try everything once except incest and folk dancing” – Sir Thomas Beecham

Truer words were never spoken. Especially when it comes to food.

Like many other things in life, cooking can be an intimidating experience. We tend to stick with what we know, what we are good at and what we are comfortable with. It’s only human. If we experiment with food it can be easier to do it outside of the house in the safety of a restaurant and in the hands of the professionals. While it might be aesthetically pleasing and delicious, leaving it to others is certainly no way to learn how to do something yourself.

If you truly want to push your boundaries and experiment with techniques and ingredients, take those examples you find in restaurants home with you and try it in your own kitchen! This doesn’t mean you have to make Caesar salad foam or sous vide every meal. You don’t have to buy tubs of squid ink or forage for your own mushrooms. And you certainly don’t have to raise backyard chickens or slaughter your own hog (for the record, I would like to do all of these things). Experimentation with food and cooking could simply mean putting new and different ingredients together in a way that challenges you or makes you a little bit uncomfortable or even sitting down with a cookbook and finding the oddest recipe in it. That’s how you learn.

This process will most certainly yield both disastrous dinners and sublime suppers.

I was recently looking for a fish dish. Something different, something outside the range of my typical seared tuna or poached salmon. Something challenging, interesting and not so obvious. I dove into my pantry and came out with a wonderful resource:

Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore’s Fish Without A Doubt.

This tome to all things fishy was one of Gourmet Magazine’s last Cook Book Club picks and is a creative and inspiring source for 250 piscine recipes. I leafed through, stopping (as per usual) on the ceviches, the stews and the broiled dishes. Typical. Then I paused, thought for a moment and flipped back to something I had seen towards the beginning: Oil-Poached Halibut with Gribiche and Poached Eggs. Odd. Yummy. Good thing I had friends coming over for dinner on whom I could experiment.

I am not entirely comfortable with cooking fish and I prefer to leave my experimentation for vegetables, sauces and desserts. This recipe was the perfect opportunity to make something a little more interesting, but still have the steady hand of the professionals leading me through each step. I have, on a few occasions, poached fish in oil and liked the outcome, but this recipe afforded me a new and interesting side in the gribiche and provided for an unexpected and delicious topping in the poached egg. The dish was incredible. The light and flaky fish, the tangy and crunchy gribiche, and the oozing, fresh egg, were perfect compliments. The fish had a hint of lemon (from the poaching) and the yolk and gribiche combined to make an rich, unexpected sauce. It was excellent and surprisingly easy.

Oil Poached Halibut with Gribiche and Poached Eggs (serves 4)

For the Gribiche:
1/3 cup diced tomato
3 tablespoons minced shallot
3 tablespoons minced cornichons
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup EVOO
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 scallion, white part only, minced

For the Fish:
4 halibut fillets
Coarse salt and white pepper
Olive oil for poaching
Zest of 1 lemon

To Finish:
2/3 cup minced onion
2 large garlic cloves
1 pound baby spinach (we used rainbow chard)
4 large eggs, poached.

For the Gribiche: Stir the tomato, shallots, cornichons, capers, EVOO, vinegar and lemon juice together in a bowl. Let sit 2 hours.

For the Fish: 1 hour before cooking, salt and pepper the fish and return to refrigerator. Heat oven to 175°F. Place fish in an ovenproof skillet and pour in enough olive oil to completely cover the fish. Take the fish out and set aside. Add the lemon zest to the oil. Heat the oil to 125°F and return the fish to the skillet. Poach fish for 25 minutes.

To Finish: Just before serving, heat a large skillet. Spoon in two tablespoons of the fish oil and add the onion, stirring until soft. Then, add the garlic, stirring until fragrant. Add the spinach (or chard) and cook until wilted. Meanwhile stir the tarragon, parsley and scallion into the gribiche. Finally, make a bed of spinach. Remove the fish from the oil, drain and place on spinach. Place a poached egg on top of each and spoon some gribiche on each fillet to finish. Serve immediately.

A few comments. We had to poach the fish for 45 minutes, not the 25 recommended. I have also found that Zoe EVOO is quite a nice oil to poach fish with. I doubled the gribiche recipe and ignored the quantities for the most part. I added more of the ingredients I like and less of those I didn’t. I also used Meyer lemons. Generally speaking, as with any recipe you experiment with, make it your own. Add something you think would taste good, subtract an ingredient that disagrees with you. Just because you find inspiration in a recipe, doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own. That’s how you learn to cook and find enjoyment in the ritual.