This recipe is a wonderful basis for experiment – the key to great cooking, in my view. The dish can be made with a variety of fish, and the clams might even be replaced by mussels. The thickness and consistency of the broth can be adjusted by reduction.
The first time we made this recipe, we chose Alaskan halibut and small manila clams because our local fishmonger, Cisco (from Ocean Pride Seafood), was ecstatic about their freshness and quality. The halibut was truly outstanding and unequivocally answered the question of whether Alaskan or Californian Halibut is better. The Alaskan that Cisco sold us was simply miraculous in texture and flavor and the three of us testing this dish had to admit that Cisco’s Alaskan halibut far surpassed even a local fish cooked within minutes of catching it.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ lb of unsalted butter
2 lbs small manila clams
Zest of one lemon
Tablespoon of fresh thyme
½ lb oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 large leeks
1 cup white wine
½ cup home made chicken stock
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
What you do:
Sprinkle the halibut with the lemon zest and chopped thyme, cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook. As with any refrigerated fish or meat, take it from the ‘fridge fifteen minutes or so before you cook it, so that it reaches room temperature.
Season with salt on both sides.
Sauté the mushrooms and leeks in butter. Add the wine and let it reduce by about a half. When you’re thinking about the final consistency of the broth, remember that the clams will add a lot of liquid.
Add the chicken stock. Add the clams. Cover and simmer.
While the clams are simmering, sauté the halibut in olive oil, three or four minutes per side depending on thickness. Do not overcook this fish or you will lose its delicate texture and taste.
Timing is important. You want the halibut, the clams and the final consistency of the broth to come together at the same time.
Ladle the clams and the broth into warm bowls and place the halibut in the center. Top with the chopped parsley and serve with a crusty country bread.
John’s Wine Pairing
“I broke all our rules with this one, selecting, instead of a local wine, a New Zealand Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This wine comes from the Marlborough area, at the northern end of New Zealand’s south island.
“The 2008 we drank is a screw top, which I’m increasingly sold on, and it struck a good balance between dryness and fruitiness. The hint of citrus in the wine perfectly complemented the halibut’s lemon zest and thyme. This particular variety has a good margin of alcohol – 13.5 – for a Sauvignon Blanc.
“All in all, everyone agreed this was a good pairing and I saved my gig as The Wine Guy for at least another night.”