As we noted a week or so ago, herbs are the first plants in our garden that really “pop” with the coming of spring. And while we get plenty of fresh goodies from the farmers market, there is nothing quite like getting the first taste of produce from our own garden. It sort of “hardens” the idea that spring is really here (for us, at least). Right now we have plenty of mint (cocktails on the way), marjoram and oregano, but this spring our tarragon (finally) took off. We couldn’t wait to use it.
And we knew exactly how we wanted to use the tarragon, as a flavoring for roasted fish. Here in Norcal, that usually means local halibut, rock cod/rockfish or salmon. In this case we use halibut, but any firm white fish will do. As for the cooking method, you can go sous-vide (and it would be great), but we also have a relatively foolproof roasting method for fish. We simply create a bed of citrus and herbs for the fish, add the fish and then layer on a bunch of butter, salt, pepper, more herbs and more citrus. This method also works with other herbs (thyme is one of our favorites), just make sure to bruise the herbs before you layer them in, this releases the oils and gets the flavor into the dish. Then roast the fish at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (depending on thickness) and serve.
So now that we had the herbs and the fish dialed, the big question was the sauce. A little internet search brought us to a tarragon and halibut recipe with a hazelnut and brown butter sauce from Bon Appetit. Nice. We adapted the recipe, particularly how we cook the fish, but also played a bit with the brown butter recipe. But the addition of the hazelnuts to the brown butter was all Bon Appetit’s, and we will certainly give credit to them for a good idea. This is a good extra touch and takes the sauce over the top.
Not that you can go wrong with brown butter sauce. If you have butter in your fridge and 10 minutes, you have a perfect sauce waiting to happen. Brown butter is easy to make and works beautifully with pasta, fish or earthy veggies. A sauce you need in your toolkit. The key is to cook the butter at medium heat until the milk solids get brown (not black, if you get close to dark brown, stop cooking the sauce) and develop a nutty flavor and aroma. You then just add seasoning and some herbs, sage is a natural fit but tarragon also works very well.
The last piece of the puzzle for this sauce was to add the chopped hazelnuts and a dash of lemon juice. The hazelnuts add more nutty flavor, but also some needed crunch to the dish. The lemon adds some acid and sourness to match the rich butter and fish. Overall you get sweet fish, savory brown butter and hazelnuts, earthy and herbal notes from the tarragon and acidity from the lemons that cleans the palate for the next bite. The extra bonus is that the brown butter sauce works beautifully with roasted asparagus (another spring crop), so we just roasted some asparagus spears and served them with the fish and the brown butter. Excellent, and all in less than 45 minutes. Like we said, we couldn’t wait to use our herbs…
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Notes Before You Start:
- The best way to check for doneness on fish is to use a digital thermometer. We think it is the most important kitchen tool after a sharp chef’s knife. If you don’t have one, the best way to check is to cut into the fish and look. Otherwise, pull the fish from the heat just before it’s done, it will keep cooking in residual heat.
- Many resources will say halibut needs to be cooked to 145 degrees to be “safe”, we prefer it less cooked, closer to 130-135 degrees.
What You Get: A rich, flavorful and easy fish dinner in about 45 minutes.
What You Need: No special equipment required, but a digital thermometer would be nice.
How Long? About 45 minutes with 20 minutes of active time. Anytime dish.