Before I went to Gabriola Island this August, I visited my sister in Vancouver. She lives in a beautiful neighborhood where many elderly Greek people have been lovingly tending to their gardens for thirty or more years. She also lives near the beach. We were walking to the beach, admiring all of the gardens and came upon a patch of fennel, tall and gone to seed, flopping over a garden fence toward the sidewalk. Green fennel seeds are such a wonderful end of summer treat. We popped some into our mouths and I was instantly overcome with the desire to poach fish in butter and green fennel seeds.
Fennel grows like a weed in the pacific Northwest. I once saw a huge empty city lot in Seattle filled from edge to edge with fennel. This recipe would certainly work with dry fennel seed as well. However, my hope is that someone out there has fennel going to seed in their garden, or growing like a weed in their neighborhood. If you do, try this recipe! I gathered some green fennel seeds from an empty lot near the ferry terminal on Gabriola for the halibut that you see featured here.
I know that I have given the impression lately that I ate nothing but blackberries while on Gabriola island. Not true. See! I also ate seafood and drank a lot of hard apple cider. For the last thirteen years a local family on Gabriola has been patiently planting and tending to their heritage apple orchard. This year, the Ravenskill Apple Orchard were able to press their own hard cider for the first time.
Gabbie’s Hard Cider comes in semi-dry and real-dry cider. Both are way dryer than a typical hard cider and both are delicious. They are made from nothing but apples and yeast and have a clean flavour. The real dry is my favourite. It’s more like champagne and are wonderful to serve with seafood. I have never been the sort of person who drinks every day. Beer makes me ill and I just don’t love wine that much. I do like whiskey and cocktails, but you don’t really want to be in the habit of drinking hard liquor every day. If I had year round access to this hard cider, I’d be in trouble.
As far as I know, you have to actually go to Ravenskill Orchard on Gabriola to get this cider at this point. If you don’t have access to very dry cider some nice dry white wine would probably work too. If you don’t have an adorable orange tabby cat to look longingly at your halibut, don’t worry. The recipe will still work.
This recipe is a riff on a method that I learned from reading this excellent food essay by Melissa Clark. You should read it too! It is one of my favourite pieces of food writing.
Serves 2 (or more if you are serving other courses)
- 2 skinned pieces of halibut (about 6oz each)
- about a half pound of boiling potatoes, cut in half if large
- 2 ears of corn, husked
- 1/4-1/2 cup butter or olive oil (depending on how wide your pan is. You need the fish pieces to be about 1/3 submerged in oil)
- The fresh green seeds from 1 fennel flower
- a good amount of sea salt for seasoning
- a healthy glug of the dryest apple cider you can find
- Start some water boiling for a steamer.
- Cut the Halibut into fairly even chunks or cubes.
- When the water is boiling, add the potatoes to the steamer. After 10 minutes add the corn and time for 8 minutes more. Remove the steamed vegetables from the heat and keep them covered until the fish is done. You can be poaching the fish while the vegetables are steaming so that it all finishes at more or less the same time.
- Heat the oil until it is warm. Add the fish in a single layer and poach it gently in the oil over low heat. Do not let it fry. If you need to cool your oil, add more of it to the pan. When the fish becomes opaque on one side shake the pan to flip the pieces around. I added the fennel seeds at this pan shaking moment.
- When the fish is done, add a glug of very dry cider to the pan and cook it just until the fizz dies down (about 30 seconds).
- Serve the fish with steamed vegetables and pour the fennel oil over the whole lot of it. Eat while it’s hot!
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