Traveling the deep

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium there is an exhibit called Open Sea. It is a spectacle, awe-inspiring; a magnificent 90-foot window glows blue in the dark of the viewing room, and behind it, enormous tuna swim with shoals of sardines and green sea turtles. There are big sharks, 5,000 pound sunfish.

The water is so deep that looking at it, I feel something sort of like vertigo.

Today I was discussing with a friend the way I’ve been feeling the last couple days with my kids: like I am in way over my head, like everything seems huge and a little bit scary, like if I look down I won’t be able to see any surface or landmark to steady myself on.

“I feel like I’m stuck in that Open Sea exhibit,” I said. “I feel a little panicky and like maybe I’m going to barf.”

“You’re not going to barf,” she said. “You’re going to be fine. But you have to remember that parenting is the absolute hardest thing in the world. We’re all a little bit adrift.”

Just like that, I felt better. My kids are not sharks. I can see land in the distance. And those green sea turtles over there? The ones hitting each other with the couch cushions and making incessant, ear-splitting shrieks? They’re just hungry for dinner. It takes a lot of energy, swimming through the open sea.

Simple Baked Halibut with Garlic Herb Butter and Quick-Pickled Shallots
I’ve talked here before about the Alice Waters salmon recipe that I make every chance I get. This recipe uses the technique to good effect with halibut instead of salmon; the filets cook through very quickly in a hot oven, but stay tender and moist as long as you don’t let them overdo. Make the herb butter and pickled shallots before you start cooking the fish; it cooks very quickly once it’s in the oven.   We love this with a side of roasted potatoes or sauteed greens. Fresh crusty bread is also wonderful, with the bonus that it can be spread with extra garlic herb butter and used to sop up the sweet-sharp juices that the pickled shallots leave behind.

Speaking of pickled shallots, we make these almost every day. I have tried making a whole jar at once, but actually prefer the little bite left on the quick-pickled ones. Obviously, the longer they sit in their marinade the tamer they become. (Though if you happen to have a Thai bird chile sitting around, then you probably like spicy things: drop it whole into the bowl and you’ll get a little bit of extra zing when you remove the shallots a few minutes later.)

You will need:

1 filet of sustainably fished halibut (~12 ounce filet serves our family of four)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs (such as thyme, parsley, a bit of rosemary, tarragon if your people like it)
Juice of half lemon
Generous pinch kosher salt

2 large shallots, diced
Juice of (the other) half lemon
White balsamic vinegar
Generous teaspoon sugar
Generous pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 F. (Feel free to roast some squash while you have your oven on!) While the oven is heating, mix together the butter, garlic, herbs, and lemon juice. (If you forgot to soften butter, let it sit for a few minutes in a bowl above your oven as it heats.) Mix well (Jacob loves to do this part). Add salt to taste.

Next, put the shallots in a bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and salt, then pour in enough white balsamic vinegar to just cover everything. Stir, make sure all the shallots are submerged. Let this sit at least ten minutes.

Take the fish filet out of the refrigerator. Put it on a jelly roll or rimmed baking sheet, skin side down. (Oil the pan before using, or line it with foil or parchment instead, for easy cleanup.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle lightly with olive oil. Put the pan in the preheated oven and bake for five minutes, then check for doneness. Continue checking every minute, until the fish is just opaque, flakes, and feels firm-tender but still moist. (There is no shame in poking at a piece of fish, or anything, to see that it is done! I would rather have a poked-at piece of fish than a dried out one.)

Serve the fish hot, with a generous dollop of the butter and a big scoop of the shallots. Crusty bread is a must, roasted veg or sauteed greens are nice too.

4 thoughts on “Traveling the deep

  1. Hmmm. There is something about the Monterey Bay Aquarium that always makes me crave fish for dinner. Yum! Parenting is definitely the hardest but most rewarding job I’ve ever done. I often feel like I’m in over my head. But then they come with their sweet kisses and cute smiles and make it all worth it.

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