All steamed up over halibut Entertaining: Exotic accents transform a fish dish into a treat for guests.

September 20, 1998|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

While in Portland, Ore., a few months ago, I dined at Zefiro, an innovative restaurant serving cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian accents. The food was superb. In fact, my main course of Steamed Halibut With Indonesian Coconut Sauce was so impressive that I asked our waiter if the chef would tell me how it was prepared. Much to my surprise and delight, the server returned with a printed recipe.

On my own, I would have never been able to unravel the different tastes in this delicious creation. The chef coated the fish with macadamia nuts, serrano peppers, turmeric, black pepper and coconut cream all ground together to form a paste. The halibut was pan-fried until the coating became crisp and golden, and then the fish was steamed quickly in a mixture of coconut milk, brown sugar, lime juice and kaffir lime leaves. A garnish of fresh mangoes and cilantro was the final flourish.

At home, I tucked the recipe away and unfortunately forgot about it until a few days ago when I was going through my files. Immediately, I remembered the exquisite flavors of the sauce with its sweet and tart accents and the contrasting textures of the crunchy nut crust and the tender, flaky flesh. My mouth watering, I decided to make this unusual dish the next evening to serve to a friend invited for dinner.

I kept true to the spirit of the recipe, but made some changes. I used almonds in place of macadamia nuts, replaced coconut cream with coconut milk and omitted the hard-to-find kaffir lime leaves. I served the halibut with fresh green beans and couscous. My spouse, who is a reluctant seafood eater, declared this one of the best fish dishes he had ever tasted, while our guest liked it so much that he pleaded for the recipe.

The halibut, which is easy to prepare when entertaining a small group, can be coated ahead so that all that is necessary at serving time is to saute and steam the fish. Plain white rice or jasmine rice is a good accompaniment.

Zefiro's Steamed Halibut With Indonesian Coconut Sauce

Serves 6

FISH:

1/2 cup blanched unsalted almonds or macadamia nuts

2 serrano chili peppers, seeds and membranes removed and peppers coarsely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 1/4 cups coconut milk (see Note)

6 halibut steaks, about 1 inch thick and 6 to 7 ounces each

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup lime juice

oil

salt

GARNISH:

1 ripe mango

1/2 lime

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

To prepare fish, place nuts, chili peppers, black pepper, turmeric and 1/4 cup coconut milk in food processor or blender and process until chunky and pastelike in texture. Remove and set aside.

With sharp paring knife, remove and discard skin from fish, but leave bones intact. Pat each portion on both sides with enough nut mixture to coat well, and set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1 cup coconut milk, brown sugar and lime juice. Set aside.

In large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat enough oil to coat bottom of pan generously. When hot, add fish and saute until coating is crisp and golden, about 2 minutes per side. Pour off and discard any extra oil. Add coconut milk mixture, reduce heat to low and cook uncovered until fish is opaque and flakes easily when pierced with knife, 4 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, to prepare garnish, peel mango and cut flesh into 1/2-inch dice. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lime over diced mango and sprinkle with cilantro. Toss well to mix.

When fish is done, remove to warm serving platter and salt lightly. Drizzle with remaining sauce in pan and mound each serving with some mangoes. Serve immediately.

Note: Coconut milk is available in many supermarkets in the section where foreign ingredients are displayed. I used Thai Kitchen's light coconut milk, which worked beautifully. Goya is another brand that's available, although I did not find that they made a light version.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

dTC

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