“Are they here yet?” That’s the call that mycologist and mushroom purveyor Connie Green hears from the Boulevard kitchen at least a month before fresh morels are actually available. By the time March arrives, we don’t want to see another parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip. By April, we definitely anticipate the arrival of fresh morels and all of the delights of spring. So when English peas, green garlic, fava beans, and fresh morels arrive in the kitchen at the same time, carpe diem—seize the day!
At the restaurant, we use two types of halibut: California, which is a bit smaller and leaner, and Alaskan, which is larger, fattier, and thicker. Halibut cheeks are relatively unknown outside coastal fishing ports, but many people consider them the best part of the fish. They’re denser than the fillets and have a more concentrated sweetness, much like scallops, which can be substituted in this recipe. Because halibut is such a lean fish, it can quickly overcook, so err on the side of being underdone, and let it finish cooking outside the oven.
Fresh morels first make their appearance in spring and can be purchased throughout the summer. Look for those that are firm and dry with no damp, soft spots or off odor. Morels can be as short as 1/2 inch or up to 4 inches long. For this recipe, choose small- to medium-size specimens about 2 inches in length. To clean fresh morel mushrooms, we use the “soak and float” method: Put them into a large bowl of cold water, swish them around, then let them sit for a few seconds until they float to the surface. The dirt will settle to the bottom of the bowl. Scoop out the morels, drain the water, and repeat the procedure 2 or 3 times. Spread the morels out on a sheet pan or plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. You can do this a few hours ahead of time, then set them aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Pea shoots and pea tendrils (the smaller, more delicate, curly ends of the shoots) were once only seen in Chinese markets. Today you can find them at many upscale urban grocers and farmers’ markets. The cut ends of the shoots can often be dry and tough, so we prefer the tendrils, which are sweet and delicately flavored.
The freshest fava beans have smooth, firm, moist-looking pods. For this recipe, their size doesn’t matter, however, smaller fava beans are sweeter.
Immature bulbs of garlic, called green garlic, arrive—usually in farmers’ markets—in the spring. They look like giant green onions with bulbous white ends and have a very sweet, delicate flavor.–Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola
LC What Are You Waiting For? Note
Don’t look at us. If your farmers’ market has all of the below ingredients, start cooking. What are you waiting for?! (Seriously. This recipe is something of a production, so you best get started straightaway.)
Pan Roasted Halibut Fillets
1 H, 5 M
1 H, 5 M
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Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water in a small bowl for 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften and turn a touch brown. Add the wine, then add the morels, peppercorns, thyme sprigs, and chicken stock. Increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
Pour the morels and their liquid into a blender or food processor and pulse until the mushrooms are coarsely chopped (be careful not to purée them). Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. You should have about 3/4 cup jus. Set aside or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Trim the tough green ends from the garlic. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the garlic until it’s tender but still vibrant green, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the garlic from the boiling water to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Blanch the parsley leaves in the same boiling water for 30 seconds, then scoop out the parsley and plunge them into the bowl of ice water. Drain and transfer to the plate with the green garlic.
Put the garlic and parsley into a blender and purée with 1/4 cup olive oil. With the machine running slowly, add the remaining 3/4 cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture has formed an emulsion. It may be necessary to stop and scrape down the sides of the blender several times with a rubber spatula. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Using the spatula, press the pesto through a medium- or fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. The pesto will be quite thick. You should have about 3/4 cup. Set aside or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Bring the same pot of water you used for the green garlic and the parsley back to a boil. Blanch the English peas and sugar snap peas together for 1 minute and, using a slotted spoon, plunge them into another bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the skin side of the halibut fillets and both sides of the halibut cheeks with salt and pepper. Place the halibut fillets in the pan, skin side down, and sear for 1 minute. Add the cheeks to the pan and cook, without budging either the fillets or the cheeks, until golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Flip the fillets and the cheeks and sprinkle just the fillets with a little salt. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast just until the fillets are springy to the touch and the center is translucent (you can make a discreet cut in the thickest fillet with a knife to check), 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven just before the fish seems completely cooked through, as the residual heat will finish the cooking.
If using dried morels, rehydrate them as you did with the morel mushroom jus. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the morels and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, or until lightly browned. Add the mushroom jus and reduce until the liquid is thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the favas, English peas, and sugar snap peas and cook for 1 minute. Add the pea shoots and water and cook just until the shoots have softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in the pesto, adding a little water if the mixture seems too thick. (The vegetables should move freely in the sauce.) Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Place some of the vegetables in the center of each of 4 warm dinner plates. Place a halibut fillet on top of each mound of vegetables and top with the halibut cheeks. Spoon some of the morels and morel jus over the top, making sure each plate has an even number of morels.
Pan Roasted Halibut Fillets Recipe © 2005 Nancy Oakes | Pamela Mazzola. Photo © 2005 Maren Caroso. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.