Fennel-Crusted Halibut with Dijon Cream

When I see a cooler full of halibut on the back of the boat my mind starts racing, jumping back and forth about sauces and sides, salads and chowders. One of the great things about halibut is that it loves just about any sauce, salsa, soup, or spice. Which is why I always say that you can make halibut 100 ways.

a cooler full of halibut in the back of a boat
Photo by Rugger Reiman

Dinner was in just a few hours so I needed something quick and simple but pleasing to the eye and palate. I remembered a technique an old chef buddy liked to use on pork, by toasting fennel seed and crusting the meat. That’s the beauty of halibut: You can adapt recipes that use red meat or chicken for incredible results. Now for the sauce. I can’t think of a better pairing than the Dijon cream I learned to make while studying in Brittany, where mustard fields go on for miles.

There’s nothing more satisfying than a simple dish that looks elegant and puts smiles on everyone’s faces, and I can tell you this dish is a crowd pleaser. I’m definitely going to add this to the regular menu at the lodge. I decided to serve the sauce as a plate sauce so all the sides could bathe in its glory. Speaking of sides, I served the halibut on top of quinoa and honey-glazed carrots, and I garnished the dish with a butter poached leek.

Chef Andrew maxwell in black apron and a ballcap pan sears halibut
Chef Andrew Maxwell cooking halibut. Photo by Rugger Reiman

For the halibut

4-6oz pieces of halibut, skinned

4 Tbsp. whole fennel seed

Salt and pepper to taste

Skin your halibut by placing the filet skin-side down, and with a sharp knife gently glide the blade between the skin and flesh on the tail. With your free hand, hold the skin firmly and pull the knife towards the end of the filet keeping the blade slightly angled downward.

a chef pulls the skin away while sliding knife between flesh and skin of halibut filet
Photo by Rugger Reiman

In a small, dry skillet, toast the whole fennel seed over medium to high heat, making sure to stir frequently so as not to burn. Once the fennel seed has slightly browned and has a nutty aroma, remove it from the heat and cool. Once cool, grind the seed with a coffee mill or simply smash it with a rolling pin.

Pat halibut dry before seasoning because it helps the fish sear rather than steam. Season the halibut with salt and freshly ground pepper, then generously coat the halibut with the toasted fennel. Place the halibut, seasoned-side down, on a smoking-hot skillet with a few drops of oil. You will begin to see the fish turning a brilliant white. Once the fish is two-thirds white (3 – 4 minutes depending on thickness), it’s time to flip and continue cooking until the flesh is completely white (1 – 2 more minutes). Remove from heat and serve immediately with Dijon cream.

For the Dijon cream

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

Tbsp whole peppercorn

3 sprigs of thyme

1 sprig of rosemary

1/2c dry white wine

2c chicken stock

2c heavy cream

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

Add a teaspoon of oil, the shallot, and the peppercorns to a saucepan over medium heat. After a minute, add the garlic. Cook until the shallots are translucent and peppercorns are fragrant. Try not to brown the garlic. Deglaze with the white wine. Then add the herbs and reduce wine until only a teaspoon remains. Add the chicken stock and reduce by half (20-30 minutes), keeping the sauce at a simmer rather than a boil. Then add the cream and reduce by half one more time. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and add the Dijon. Taste for salt (I didn’t need any). Serve on top of the fish or under it as a plate sauce.

halibut sits on a plate over a white Dijon cream with glazed carrots to the side
The finished dish. Photo by Rugger Reiman.

Andrew Maxwell is the chef at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Email Andrew at [email protected]

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