Maine Halibut Niçoise
The Lost Kitchen, Belfast, ME
“This version of a classic southern French dish takes on the flavor of Maine at the height of summer. Tomato season is in full swing, green beans are bountiful, lettuce is everywhere, and the tender new potatoes are just starting to come in. This dish also showcases my favorite—and foolproof—method for cooking fish. It really started as a necessity, since my little apartment kitchen didn’t have any ventilation and the oven was the best place to contain a smoking skillet. But it’s become a way to make perfect flaky, moist fish every time. I start by searing it in a pan, then transfer it to the oven. The high heat gives it a nice, crispy crust; then the more even heat of the oven gently finishes the job. And, of course, basting with butter as it cooks doesn’t hurt!” —Erin French in her 2018 Beard Award–nominated The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine.
- 1 pound baby or new potatoes
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 pound green beans, blanched
- 1 large heirloom tomato, sliced into 8 wedges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 halibut fillets (about 1/2 pound each)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 head bibb lettuce, leaves separated
- 4 large eggs, poached
- 1 lemon, quartered
- Edible flowers, for garnish
Macerated Shallot Vinaigrette:
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar, or enough to just cover the shallots
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- A couple twists of pepper
- 1 cup pitted Greek olives (I like a mix of Kalamata and green olives)
- 1 anchovy fillet, in oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers; cook the potatoes until fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the water and let the potatoes cool to room temperature. Cut them into quarters.
Meanwhile, make the macerated shallot vinaigrette: combine the shallots and rice vinegar and allow to macerate for at least 20 minutes or up to overnight. Whisk in the olive oil and pepper. You could store this in your fridge for up to a week, but you’ll get the freshest, brightest flavor if you use it within 24 hours. This recipe makes about 1/2 cup of vinaigrette.
In a small bowl, toss the potatoes, green beans, and tomato with enough of the macerated shallot vinaigrette to coat the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the fish: heat a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat, pour in the olive oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper and add it to the hot skillet, skin-side down. You’ll know the pan is hot enough when you can hold your hand about 6 inches above it for only 3 seconds. Or the oil will begin to smoke. Be sure there’s at least a couple inches of space between the fillets or the fish will steam. Cook in 2 separate pans or in 2 batches, if necessary.
Let the fish cook undisturbed until it releases easily from the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the fish over, add the butter to the pan, and put the pan in the oven. Roast until the fish is just cooked through and golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the fillets’ thickness. About halfway through the cooking, pull out the pan to baste the fish with the butter and check for doneness. When cooked, the flesh will feel slightly firm and will begin to flake and separate a bit. Transfer the fish to a plate and allow it to rest for a few moments. Be sure to reserve any pan juices.
Meanwhile, make the tapenade: combine the olives, anchovy, garlic, and parsley leaves in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and pulse again until just combined.
Divide the lettuce among 4 plates, arranging it in a small circle. Top each with a small mound of potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes. Give each person a halibut steak and drizzle it with any remaining pan juice. Top each halibut with a poached egg, followed by a spoonful of tapenade. Squeeze a lemon wedge over each plate and garnish with edible flowers, if desired. Tuck in immediately.
Adapted from The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine by Erin French (Clarkson Potter, 2017).