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Simple to Spectacular — Parmesan-crusted Halibut with Sauce Marseillaise and Clams

November 21, 2009
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Permesan-crusted Halibut with Sauce Marseillaise and Clams

Simple to Spectacular is the title of one of my well-used cookbooks by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman. The header on the cover reads, “How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication.” My copy opens naturally to the recipe for Roast Chicken with Truffles which, of course, is  the “spectacular” version of roasting this bird. I promise to include this recipe as soon as Oregon truffles make it to market.

I first encountered the Marseillaise sauce in Martha Rose Shulman’s Supper Club Chez Martha Rose. She learned it from Lulu Peyraud at Domaine Tempier in Bandol, France. The legendary wines along with Lulu’s culinary genius have made Domaine Tempier a magnet for serious cooks and wine lovers. Richard Olney’s book Lulu’s Provençal Table also included her recipe with the addition of anchovies. I highly recommend searching out these books and especially the wines of Domaine Tempier. Their reds cellar well and achieve greatness after resting in a decanter for 2-3 hours. Their rosé sets a standard for others to meet. Expect to pay a premium price for these wines — you will be rewarded.

Parmesan-crusted Halibut is a simple preparation worthy of standing alone with perhaps a spritz of lemon or a tartar sauce. It can also be dressed up in grand style with a heady Sauce Marseillaise which is tomato-based along with copious amounts of garlic, black olives, capers and anchovies. Nothing shy in this sauce! Steaming clams in this sauce and adding to the presentation is probably gilding the lily but sometimes it’s fun to put on the dog.

Soprano friend and gourmet cook Ellen Hargis wrote on Facebook recently that “Parmesan-crusted sole” was a bad idea. She now sides with Marcella Hazan who claims that fish and cheese don’t marry well. “Well”, I say, “we’re not in Rome and here in the newest part of the New World parmesan-crusted halibut appears on menus all up and down the west coast!” As a matter of fact, it has become so pricey on menus that people like me have to resort to teaching ourselves how to prepare it. (Ellen Hargis sings all over the world specializing in early music and frequently partners with hubby, David Douglas, leader and conductor of The King’s Noyse, a five-member Renaissance string band. You can listen to Ellen’s brilliant and lovely voice here)

Parmesan-crusted Halibut with Sauce Marseillaise and Clams
Adapted from similar recipes in Supper Club Chez Martha Rose by Martha Rose Shulman and Lulu’s Provençal Table by Richard Olney

For the Sauce Marseillaise:

  1. 1 28 oz. (794 gr.) can of chopped tomatoes. (I use fresh tomatoes, 1 1/2 pounds (680 gr.),  only in the late summer when local tomatoes are at their greatest. I use Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes in the winter.)
  2. 1/4 cup (60 ml.) olive oil
  3. 1 medium onion, chopped
  4. 4-5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  5. A pinch of cayenne
  6. 1 1/2  teaspoons (7-8 ml.) fresh winter savory leaves, chopped (A sprig of winter savory appears as a garnish in the photo. If you can’t find any, basil makes a fine substitution.)
  7. 2-3 tablespoons ( 30-45 ml.) capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
  8. 4 ounces (112 gr.) Greek-style black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  9. 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry and marinated in a little milk for a half hour or so.
  10. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) additional olive oil for sautéing the anchovy fillets
  11. 15-18 live clams; more if you like.
  12. 1/3 cup (80 ml.) dry vermouth or dry white wine. (I always have some Dolin Vermouth on hand so I won’t have to open wine. It’s also good for an occasional martini.)
  • Scrub the clams with a stiff brush under running water to remove all traces of sand and mud. If any clams don’t shut their shells when handled, they’re dead so discard. Prepare an ice-cold brine of 1/3 cup (80 ml.) salt to 1 gallon (4 l.) of water. Float some ice cubes to keep it cold and sprinkle some corn meal for the clams to eat and disgorge any sand.
  • Warm the olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy pan and cook the onions until soft but not colored. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the tomatoes, cayenne and savory and cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens a bit and only a little liquid remains. Lower the heat and stir in the capers and olives.
  • Drain and pat dry the anchovy fillets. Warm the additional tablespoon (15 ml.) olive oil in a small frying pan and cook while shaking the pan until the anchovies begin to fall apart then add to the sauce.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat, cover and hold until you have cooked the fish. You will steam the clams last.

For the halibut:

A special thank-you to Jennifer at OnceUponAChef.com for a recipe for the Parmesan breading and method.

  1. 1 – 1 1/2 pound (454 – 680 gr.) halibut fillet
  2. 1 cup (240 ml.) All-purpose flour for dusting halibut
  3. 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  4. 2/3 cup (240 ml.) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  5. 1/2 cup (120 ml.) Parmesan-Reggiano, finely grated (I use my lemon zester for this.)
  • Wash and pat dry the halibut fillet and season lightly with salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Prepare three dishes for the crusting procedure: 1) flour, 2) beaten eggs, and 3) the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan
  • Dust the fillet in the flour, shake off excess, dip into the beaten egg, and finish with a coating of the Parmesan and bread crumb mixture.
  • Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and sauté the top of the fillet (the side you want to see on the platter) until lightly golden brown. Carefully turn over and brown the other side.
  • Remove to a warm plate and keep warm in the oven while you steam the clams.
  • Reheat the sauce until it simmers and add the vermouth. Add the drained and rinsed clams, cover and steam until all their shells have opened.
  • Place the halibut on a warm platter, ladle the sauce around the fish and top with the clams. Garnish with a savory sprig or parsley.

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal – I accompanied it with a simple wilted spinach salad.

I asked Vic to open a wine of his choice to go with this meal and he surprised me with Trinity Vineyards 2008 Oregon Viognier. Trinity makes its wines in South Salem and purchased the grapes for this wonderful slightly-sweet wine from Sundown Vineyards in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. It was a nice contrast to the pungent and heady sauce for the halibut.

From the Trinity winemaker:

“Sourced from the award-winning Sundown Vineyards in Southern Oregon, this viognier exhibits characteristics of peach blossoms, apricots and pears. This limited-production, hand-crafted wine is aromatic and dry, but soft and fruity and can seem slightly sweet. It is best paired with Middle Eastern or Moroccan foods that combine poultry, spices and fruit. Serve chilled for casual and formal occasions alike.”

Bon appétit

– Charles

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Marlene permalink
    November 22, 2009 6:56 am

    All I can say is……WOW

    Marlene

    • charlesprice permalink*
      November 22, 2009 9:23 am

      Thank you Marlene, the sauce without the anchovies would be great over pasta and completely vegetarian. I know Bill loves black olives.

  2. November 22, 2009 4:25 pm

    My word… this picture and post made me so hungry! I have a basic Chinese soup on the stove right now but I’m half thinking of tossing it out and making this instead. Sigh…

  3. November 23, 2009 11:19 am

    Charles, This dish looks truly amazing. Beautiful photo! Thanks for the mention!

    • Charles permalink*
      November 25, 2009 4:47 am

      Jennifer, thanks – that means a lot coming from you. Love your site.

  4. November 28, 2009 3:31 pm

    I love it! the photo is spectacular and I kind of want to devour that dish! I can’t believe people can say what does and does not go with fish. ? Says who? Don’t these people travel? besides like the French say “les gouts et les couelurs ne se discutent pas” (you don’t argue with people’s taste!)

  5. John Coats permalink
    December 24, 2009 8:37 am

    What impressed me first about tasteoforegon is the seeming endless delectable temptations, several of which my wife intends to try over the holidays–beginning, I hope, with the Parmesan-crusted Halibut with Sauce Marseillaise and Clams. Then, after browsing for a bit, I realized that what I’d been taken with, in no small part, was the art, the loveliness–to the eye–of the food on the plate. Not that this is my first acquaintance with presentation–there’ve been times that it seemed almost criminal to disturb the beauty of the dish in front of me (though I managed). But it is too easy to forget that even a tuna sandwich, or the leftover chicken I heat up for my lunch on a given weekday can be made into something much more. Thanks, Charles, for all if it.

    That aside, if we ever get rich, will you be our chef?

    • Charles permalink*
      December 24, 2009 9:06 am

      I would love to cook for you and Pam anytime. I ordered your book the day it was released and just began serious reading this week. Hope to finish by Jan. 1.

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