Monday, October 4, 2010

Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth

I love curry.  

I used to be afraid of it--in AP Econ my senior year, a guy brought curry for his lunch every day and ate it in class (and consequently, caused us all to smell like it)--and after that year, I vowed I'd never eat it. Ever.  

Despite my convictions, desperate times call for desperate measures, and when I was in Germany and couldn't handle eating one more sausage, some friends and I tried Thai food--and I've never looked back since.   Curry + coconut milk = bliss, so any recipe that calls for that combo is a winner.

(if you also love curry sauces, try out Trader Joe's Yellow curry and Red curry sauce in a bottle.  They are almost as good as my favorite Thai restaurant--seriously--and only a few bucks)

Back to dinner.  It's recommended that we have 2 servings of fish per week in our diet--fish is full of protein, low calorie/low fat, and some even have heart-healthy fatty acids.  As someone who is a natural rule follower, I desperately want to incorporate more fish into our eating routine--but this is problematic in a number of ways.

     1) Fish is expensive. 
     2) I don't make fish very often and don't have many recipes in my repertoire
     3) I LOVE fish, but I think it's difficult to do well.  Some fish (salmon) has a fishy taste that doesn't go well with all seasoning, and other fish (halibut) doesn't have much flavor, so you need to season without overwhelming the fish. 

As a frugal perfectionist, fish presents challenges.

However, I'm trying to branch out.  Now that I have plenty of time to plan meals and grocery shop, I'm becoming quite the bargain hunter.  Alaskan cod was on sale for $4 a pound this week at Tom Thumb (Safeway/Vons for you Californians) and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to change up our diet for a relatively small amount of money.  I'd already flagged Ellie's halibut recipe, so I figured I'd go with it--they're both firm white fish, so the difference in the final product should be minimal. 

For more on fish substitutions, see Cooking Light's guide.

The recipe is a relatively easy one--according to Ellie, it's 10 minutes of prep and 17 minutes of cooking.

I got out all of my ingredients:

Started the brown rice (and steamed broccoli at the same time--how handy!)

Weighed my spinach
*Note: she says it's about 5 cups lightly packed--but since I have a handy-dandy food scale, I thought I'd be sure.  **RULE FOLLOWER**

Chopped my shallots
         *Note: if you haven't tried shallots, DO IT.  I'm not a huge fan of onion (I'm not alone! Neither is Tracey) but shallots are wonderful.  They're basically a cross between garlic and onion (sweeter, milder, and more garlicky than a regular onion) and are worth the few extra minutes you'll spend hunting in the produce section.
         *Note: you can chop by hand, of course--but I am a huge crybaby when it comes to chopping any form of onion--so I let my fabulous mini food processor do it for me.

Heated my canola oil, and started cooking!

It's really a simple recipe: cook shallots, add curry paste, dump in liquid, and simmer.

**While simmering, I finished prep work (chop cilantro, slice scallions) and set the table.  Hooray for recipes where I'm not fussing over the stove!

Now, perhaps it's because I'm adapting to a new stove-top(electric instead of gas), but this took substantially longer to simmer down to 2 cups than the 5 minutes that she suggested in the recipe.  It could be me (turning down the heat too low?), it could be the stove top (it's super old and yucky)...or, perhaps she and I have a different definition of simmer.  Regardless, it took 15 minutes before I finally threw in the towel and said "close enough!"  I measured twice (remember: I play by the rules and wanted EXACTLY 2 cups!) and was still over...but the husband needed to eat so he could get to basketball on time.

Still not 2 cups?  Back into the pan...

Anyway, once you're past the whole "simmer down the sauce" thing, the recipe is, once again, a breeze.  Place the fish fillets in the pan, make sure they're covered in the broth, cover, and cook for appx. 7 mins. 

**These 7 minutes were particularly handy--I sliced strawberries, prepped the bowls, and started cleaning up the mess I'd made.

Prep the bowl: 1/2 cup rice, a handful of spinach, and the fish on top

Dumped the lime juice, scallions, and cilantro in the broth, and ladled it over the fish.

**Note: the recipe calls for steamed spinach.  I steamed some over my rice cooker and left some raw to compare.  I don't *love* steamed spinach and preferred the raw.

Time from start to finish: 40 minutes
And here's the verdict:

*husband: "It's good, babe!"
*me: "sigh".

As I said before, I LOVE curry.  Love.  Here's the problem--I went in to this meal HOPING it would taste like the curry I'd get from a restaurant--but of course, be much better for me.  This recipe was fine--it wasn't gross, and the leftovers will surely be eaten (and not only because I'm too cheap to throw them away)...but I'd had such high hopes.  My main problem with this recipe?  It tasted healthy.  I want to eat healthy food that tastes just as good as the full-fat version.  In some ways, I don't mind that it doesn't taste as good as the original...but when it comes to curry, it needs to wow me. 

The husband told me later that if he had gone into the meal blindly, he wouldn't have known it was a curry dish--which sums up exactly why I was disappointed.  We were both expecting a creamy, heartier sauce; when she calls it "coconut curry broth", she isn't kidding. It tastes like broth.

Thoughts for the future:
*add more curry paste AND add some curry powder
*simmer that stupid broth until it's exactly 2 cups (or maybe even less for a stronger flavor)
*full fat coconut milk? (gulp)
         -- I support low fat products wholeheartedly, but when I looked at the ingredients list on light coconut milk, guess what I saw?
         Water, coconut milk, guar gum
The first ingredient is WATER???  No wonder it lacks some flavor.  We need to adjust the water:coconut milk ratio here, people.

So here are the pros and cons.

*healthy: fish, veggies, whole grains and low-ca (418 cal total)l in one bowl
*easy--lots of down time where you can finish getting the rest of dinner ready
*fancy-ish--a nice change from the usual chicken
*minimal clean up--1 pan and the rice bowl.  YES!!!
*relatively fast--especially if your sauce simmers down quickly (I blame this stovetop--I HATE it)
     --35 minutes total
*reheats well


*not so sure that it'd be well accepted by everyone (kids, non-fish eaters, those who fear curry)

So I'll be honest--my confidence in Ellie is wavering already.  I've only loved 1 of her recipes out of the 4 I've tried...we'll see how the next dinner goes.

Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth

2006, Ellie Krieger, All rights reserved

Prep Time:
10 min
Cook Time:17 min

Serves:4 servings
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 shallots, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste*, or 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon, plus more for seasoning
  • 4 (6-ounce) pieces halibut fillet, skin removed
  • Steamed spinach**
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving


*Available in the Asian section of most supermarkets
**Steam or microwave 5 cups of washed baby spinach for 2 minutes

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes.

Season the halibut with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange the fish in the pan and gently shake the pan so the fish is coated with the sauce. Cover and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 7 minutes.

Arrange a pile of steamed spinach in the bottom of 4 soup plates. Top with the fish fillets. Stir the cilantro, scallions, and lime juice into the sauce and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the sauce over the fish and serve with rice.

Nutrition Facts

Nutritional Analysis per Serving
Calories 418
Total fat 8.7 grams
Saturated fat 3 grams
Protein 43 grams
Carbohydrates 41 grams
Fiber 2 grams
Sodium 600 milligrams

1 comment:

  1. Sorry this wasn't a big success! It was my first foray into curry so I had little idea what to expect from the dish.

    What I've loved most about the CEiMB group is that they choose recipes/combinations of foods I would not have chosen on my own. There have only been a couple recipes that I absolutely would never make again, and they are usually things I knew I wouldn't like going in (like smoked salmon or mayo-based salads). For the most part I've liked all the dishes even if I have only LOVED a few of them. For me, it's still worthwhile to participate and keep trying the recipes because I continue to learn about what things I like and which things I don't. I find most of Ellie's recipes need a bit more of something so I learned to sample along the way, read the website reviews, and get ideas from the rest of the group. Hopefully you will find some more recipes that you love!