Halibut with A New England Chowder Sauce

Looking at my blog’s recipe index, you would think we are a family that eats very little fish or seafood.  That is certainly not the case, but I have become increasingly cautious with regard to which types of fish (and their provenance) I purchase.  Yesterday I found myself in the neighborhood of one of our area’s best fish stores, and as I surveyed all the possibilities, I gave in to a craving.  I love New England-style clam chowder.  This recipe combines beautiful sauteed fish with a sauce built of clam chowder ingredients.  It’s the best of both worlds.  I used Alaskan halibut and littleneck clams and I am very happy with the result.  This would be a lovely dinner party entree, served with some sauteed spinach and a crisp white wine.  Take care to check your seasoning carefully as you prepare the sauce; the clams, clam liquid, and bacon are salty.  Once you add the potatoes to the mixture you will find that they moderate the saltiness, so hold off any additional salt until the potatoes are tender.  I have added a measure of white wine to the original recipe, as I find it provides a brightness and acidity that lightens the rich sauce.  Feel free to substitute cod or bass for the halibut; and if you prefer, reserve the bacon as a garnish, sprinkled over the fish with the parsley.

Halibut with New England Chowder Sauce
(serves 4)
24 littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 ounces slab bacon, diced
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup small diced onion
1/2 cup small diced leek (include some of the light green part)
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
4 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 generous cup)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry white wine
coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
4 skinless fillets of halibut, each about 5-6 ounces
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Place the clams and 1 tablespoon water in a saucepan, cover, and steam over high heat until the clams open, 4-5 minutes.  Set aside 8 clams in their shells for garnish.  Remove the remaining clams from their shells.  (Discard any clams that do not open).  Strain the clam liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and set the broth aside.  Put the bacon and canola oil in a large, heavy pot and saute over medium-low heat until the bacon is browned and crisp, about 6 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate.  Add the onions to the pot and saute until they are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.  Add the leeks and garlic and cook, without browning, an additional 2 minutes or so.  Return the bacon to the pan and add the potatoes, cream, white wine, and reserved clam broth.  Simmer the sauce, loosely covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the shelled and unshelled clams.  Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary and pepper.  Cover and keep warm.  Heat the olive oil in a wide non-stick saute pan over medium heat.  Season the fish fillets lightly with salt and pepper, and set in the pan.  Cook until golden on the first side, then turn and cook until done to your liking.  To serve, transfer each fillet to a warmed plate or shallow bowl and spoon sauce around the fish.  Arrange the reserved unshelled clams around the fish and sprinkle the parsley on top.   
(minimally adapted from “Simple Pleasures” by Alfred Portale)

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