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I wrote this recipe for Halibut with Herbs and Fennel Tomato Sauce as part of a piece I did on How to Serve Red Wine with Fish. A lot people don’t believe that red wine and fish go together, but they certainly can; when you make the fish and the topping red wine friendly.
Wine Recommendation: A fruity Merlot.
Red wine with fish? Yes it is easily done
Why it Works: Merlot is generally softer and silkier than a Cabernet Sauvignon. Its flavor profile is generally red fruit driven with undertones of black fruits. Its characteristic soft tannins work well smoothing out the slightly acidic tomato sauce.
This fish is delish, even when served without the wine
Halibut is a mild flavored, medium textured fish. I’ve laid it on a bed of sautéed fennel and tomato sauce, and topped the fish with a combination of fresh herbs along with orange and lemon zest. This combination works well with the Merlot as the fennel and orange zest bring out the fruit Merlot is known for.
Halibut with herbs and zest
Now, don’t go all “Sideways” on me. Merlot is a great wine. As a matter of fact, the dirty secret of the movie Sideways is that merlot is the wine that was being passed under the table in the opening scene. And the only reason Miles “hated” merlot with such a passion was that it was his now ex-wife’s favorite wine. So it was an emotional “hate” not an actual dislike of the wine. And of course, Halibut with Herbs and Fennel Tomato Sauce is delicious without any wine, or you could serve a fruity Pinot Noir, if you insist.
Unfamiliar with fennel? Fennel is a great, versatile vegetable with a sweet flavor that really enhances this dish. Here is a quick tutorial for you on How to Prepare Fennel.
Capers can be another one of those ingredients that have some people scratching their heads. You’ve more than likely seen them before, especially if you eaten Italian (real Italian, not Olive Garden Italian); they are used in dishes like Veal Piccatta, and Spaghetti Puttancsca. Capers are the buds of the capparis spinosa plant. Once brined they lend a salty, vinegary, almost pickle like flavor to food. They are sold both in salt or in the brine. Either way, you should rinse them prior to adding them to your food.
In a small bowl, combine the herbs and the zests. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then spread the minced herbs on one side. Set-aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan. Add the fennel and saute until the fennel starts to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/2. Add the tomatoes along with their juice; using your spoon mash them slightly. Simmer over medium high heat until reduced by 1/2. Reduce heat to medium low; add the olives and capers and simmer until the sauce is very thick.
Heat the remaining oil in a skillet; when hot, add the fish herb side down. Cook about 3 minutes; then turn. Add a little more oil, if necessary; and cook until the fish is just cooked through. Do not overcook the fish. (This is the biggest mistake people make when cooking fish, they over cook it, and then it becomes all dry and yucky. If you cook it until it “flakes easily with a fork” you’ve overcooked it. Keep it moist in the center, cooking only until it’s opaque.)
Place the fennel mixture onto a warmed plate, top with fish and sprinkle basil and parsley over.
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