“You’re not really going to go home and cook halibut now, are you?” Sarah asks with a raised eyebrow.
“I have to!” I burst. “It’s been marinating since 5, and I made a special trip to Santa Monica Seafood to get it!”
My friends exchange glances – they don’t look very convinced.
“I paid $7 for it,” I add sheepishly, reaching for my glass of Sauvignon Blanc as though the alcohol can shield me from their skepticism.
Our original plan had been to meet at Comme Ca, David Myer’s modern French bistro, for just drinks. When I arrived at the restaurant at 6:30 pm that evening, I never dreamed we’d be photographing cheese and flirting with our charming server until well after 9 pm. Apparently time flies when you are being a lush – and are in the company of funny femme fatales with cams.
Sook shakes her head, clearly not impressed by my efforts to make what I have built up in my head to be the perfect spring dinner. “Can’t you just eat it tomorrow night?”
“I’m leaving for Orange County tomorrow morning – I have to eat it tonight!” I counter.
“But you’re kind of missing a key ingredient,” Sarah reminds me gently.
I take an anxious gulp of my wine. “Umm… well… about that…”
I lean in, lowering my voice to a whisper lest anyone at a nearby table hear the absurd thing I’m about to propose. “Do you think they might… umm… give me some crème fraiche? Like a small container to go? Is that too weird??”
My friends, fairly used to my neurosis at this point in our relationship, seem unfazed by my question. I scrutinize their faces for signs that they are about to burst out laughing or demand I leave their table for being a crazy freak, but they remain stoic.
Sarah speaks up first. “Not at all! Do it!”
Sook chimes in, “Yeah do it!”
It occurs to me later that they may have just been humoring me, but in the moment, I find bravado in their words.
I’m going to do it!
Or, more accurately, make Sarah do it.
Ten minutes later, I receive my container of crème fraiche from the kitchen. Ten minutes after that, the chef comes out to find out what the heck I am planning to do with it. I don’t tell him that it’s for a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques – I just smile sweetly and explain I have halibut marinating at home. He nods, wishes us well and then heads back to the kitchen.
When I arrive at my apartment nearly twenty minutes later, I do the same.
I know it’s crazy to cook a gourmet dinner at 9:30 at night, but somehow the ridiculousness of it makes it all the more appealing. (The two glasses of wine I’ve had to drink may have something to do with its allure, as well.) So I blanch and peel my fava beans. I slice snap peas into delicate slivers. And I mince summer savory for the crème fraiche.
I finally sit down to dinner at 10:15 pm – the perfect time by New York City standards. While I’m not crazy about the acidity of the meyer lemon salsa, the rest of the dish is a knock-out. Despite the late hour and my rather large amuse bouche of cheese and warm French bread at Comme Ca, I don’t feel weighed down when I scrape up the last bite of halibut. I feel great. And convinced that my behavior that evening was perfectly normal and sane. Everybody does their grocery shopping at their local French bistro, and everybody tipsily peels fava beans at 10 pm at night!
I feel so sane, in fact, that the next morning I pack the rest of the crème fraiche on ice and bring it down to the OC so I can make the same dinner for my family on Easter Sunday.
As it turns out, they think I’m sane too. Especially when I’m in the kitchen.
Halibut with Fingerlings, Fava Beans, Meyer Lemon, and Savory Crème Fraiche
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
2 filets halibut, 5 to 6 ounces
1 Meyer lemon, zested
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (original recipe calls for fresh)
2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, minced
½ pound small fingerling potatoes (approximately 6-8)
½ tablespoon butter
1 pound fava beans, shucked and peeled (approximately 3/4 cup)
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut into slivers (original recipe calls for pea shoots)
Savory crème fraiche (see below)
Meyer lemon salsa (see below)
Season the halibut with the lemon zest, thyme and parsley. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove fish from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature.
Place the potatoes in a medium pot, cover with cold water (by at least 4 inches), and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender when pierced. Reserve 1/3rd cup of water and strain the potatoes. When the potatoes have cooled, slightly smash them with the heel of your hand.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter and sugar snap peas, and cook for approximately 2 minutes before adding the smashed potatoes and a pinch of salt. Stir together, warming the potatoes, and then add the fava beans and a few tablespoons of the reserved potato water. Turn off the heat, and cover while you cook the fish.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Swirl in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and wait 1 minute. Carefully lat the fish in the pan and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s lightly browned. Turn the fish over, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook a few more minutes until it’s almost cooked through. Be careful not to overcook the fish. When it’s done, it will begin to flake away and separate a little and the center will be slightly translucent. Remember, the halibut will continue to cook a bit more once you take it out of the pan.
Turn the heat under the potatoes up to medium, uncover, and heat the potatoes and favas until hot through. Spoon the potatoes, snap peas and fava onto each plate, dot half the crème fraiche over them, and spoon half the lemon salsa on top. Arrange the halibut over the potatoes and spoon the remaining crème fraiche and lemon salsa over each piece of fish.
Savory Crème Fraiche
¼ cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon savory leaves, finely minced or pounded into a paste
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the savory leaves into a paste. Add the crème fraiche and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and combine well. Season with salt and pepper.
Meyer Lemon Salsa
1 Meyer lemon
1 tablespoon finely diced shallots
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used only a teaspoon which may explain the acidity)
½ teaspoon minced savory
2 teaspoons sliced mint
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cut the ends off the Meyer lemon. Place the lemon cut side down on a cutting board. Following the contour of the fruit with your knife, remove the peel and white cottony pith, working from top to bottom and rotating the fruit as you go. Then, one at a time, hold each lemon in your hand and carefully slice between the membranes and the fruit to release the segments in between. Discard the seeds and reserve the juice. You should have about 2 tablespoons segments and 2 tablespoons juice. Place the lemon juice in a small bowl and add the shallots and 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper.. Let sit 5 minutes and slowly whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the lemon segments, savory, mint, and parsley. Taste for balance and seasoning.