Cooking “À la Nage” is one of my favourite ways of cooking seafood. This dish highlights the many beautiful flavours of the ingredients. You get the delicate meatiness of the halibut, the sweetness from the clams, the rich-earthiness from the maitake mushrooms, the peppery notes from the watercress, and the deep umami from the Kombu. Along with the aromatics of fennels, onions, garlic and celery, this dish is a pefect comfort food especially now that the nights are getting a little colder.
“À la nage” is French for “while swimming”. In cooking terms, it refers to poaching the seafood in an aromatic broth. Traditionally, the fish is poached with the liquid, but for my recipe, I decided to pan-sear the halibut to add that layer and texture of crispiness that is just beautiful with the overall dish.
The base of my dish is a seafood stock that I made from the shells of prawns and bones of fish that I have consumed in the recent past. I also use Kombu, a Japanese Kelp that not only has many health benefits, but also enriches the broth by adding that deep, savoury, umami quality. It also brings out the flavours of the other ingredients, which means, you don’t have to use a lot of salt!
Halibut and Clams à la Nage
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
3 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Onions, diced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Fennel bulb, diced (save the Fennel Fronds for garnish)
2 stalks Celery, diced
1 cup White Wine
3 cups Seafood stock/broth (preferably homemade)
3 strips of Japanese Kombu/Seaweed (optional)
1 cluster “Maitake” or Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, quartered (a quarter per serving)
Juice, from 1 whole lemon
1 dozen Manila Clams, scrubbed and cleaned
1 bunch of Watercress, cleaned and stems removed
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oven-safe heavy skillet
Safflower oil/Grape seed oil (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet)
4 Halibut filets, skinless (about 6-7ounces each filet)
Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 425°F
- In a large Sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it is hot, but not brown. Add the Onions, Garlic, Fennel, and Celery. Sauté until the vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add the Wine and cook until the “alcohol” smell has cooked off, and reduced by about half while stirring the pan frequently. Add the Seafood stock, Kombu seaweed strips, Maitake mushrooms, and lemon juice. Stir the pan, lower the heat, cover, and let simmer.
- TO PAN SEAR THE HALIBUT: Using an oven-safe heavy skillet, heat safflower/grapeseed oil on medium-high heat until hot. Season the halibut filets generously with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, carefully add the halibut filets, flesh side down and sear for 3 minutes untouched. Transfer the whole skillet, keeping the flesh side down, to the oven to finish cooking for 5 minutes. Using oven-safe mitts, remove the skillet from the oven, and with spatula or tongs, gently flip the fish to the other side and let it cook (while the pan is still hot out from the oven) for a quick 20 seconds. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Going back to the simmering liquid, add the Manila Clams, cover and cook until the clams open (discard any unopened clams). Season the broth with salt and pepper. Discard the Kombu strips.
- TO PLATE: Using a slotted spatula, transfer the mushrooms, clams, and vegetables into a bowl or a shallow bowl. Using a ladle, carefully spoon the broth into the bowl over the vegetables and clams. Using a handful of watercress, bunch and place them in the middle of the bowl as this will be the “bed” for the fish. Carefully place the fish (golden-brown flesh side up) over the watercress. Garnish with fennel fronds.