Alaska summer is in full grandeur on the Kenai Peninsula and the weather couldn’t be any more perfect. The Homer Spit business proprietors and tourists couldn’t be happier with all the sunshine and warm temperatures. It’s great fun to be out there enjoying the day amidst all the hustle and bustle surrounded by the most beautiful scenery on earth. The atmosphere is festive and light and just makes me smile.
I love walking on the harbor trail as it’s a sensory delight: gorgeous views of Kachemak Bay, snow capped mountains just beyond the blue green waters of the bay in the distance and boats in the harbor, birds singing and kids laughing, the creak of the harbor ramp as happy anglers haul up their catch, and the smells, oh the enticing wafts drifting through the air from the many eateries preparing everything from pizza to deep fried oysters. I crave seafood just being on the Spit. If I happen to wander by an ice cream shop, the sweet smell of freshly made waffle cones tempts me often.
I would have never believed that someday I’d prefer seafood over anything else to dine upon. This Wisconsin girl grew up on beef, pork and chicken. On Fridays for supper we had broiled haddock or cod that came frozen in a rectangular box. There was no halibut. Preparation consisted of placing it in on a pan and broiling it to an unpalatable, overcooked bland piece of fish no amount of tartar sauce could improve. Occasionally we would get fish sticks, which were much better. Canned pink salmon was made into salmon loaf. Mom left the bones in, proclaiming they provided calcium. Ever eat a mouthful of bones? Thank goodness Wisconsin perch and walleye pike were on the menu come summer thanks to dad’s love of fishing.
If your folks could afford to take the family out for Friday fish dinner, the local taverns made delicious deep-fried perch and pan-fried walleye. Your dinner was prepared by someone’s gramma back in the kitchen and served with a piece of rye bread, coleslaw and potato salad or French fries. If you were old enough to drink, you ordered a beer or brandy old-fashioned cocktail. We kids had kiddie cocktails of 7-Up with a maraschino cherry. When we visit Wisconsin these days, lake perch and walleye pike are still a special treat for us to dine upon, and we enjoy it with the best brandy old-fashioned cocktails you will ever have.
Things have changed a lot over the years. Seafood processing has improved tremendously, allowing superior product quality, as has the availability to buy Alaska seafood the world over. I had no idea fresh seafood could taste so good. Salmon and halibut, rockfish, oysters and mussels are easy to come by here on Kachemak Bay, and I hope you are able to take advantage of their obtainability this summer, whether from your own fishing pole or given to you from a good friend or bought.
Halibut remains an all-time favorite. The delectable, white fleshed fish has an elegant texture and appearance, and sweet subtle flavor. When preparing, simple is best — a quick flash in the pan with some butter and a squeeze of lemon. I enjoy tempura fried, taking a bite and shattering the outside crispy crust to find the flaky, tender white flesh hiding within. After a long winter eating frozen halibut, that first taste of this fresh delicacy come spring is a bit of heaven on earth.
One of my favorite halibut dishes is from the “Hali’imaile General Store Cookbook” by Bev Gannon, “Halibut with Chardonnay Sauce.” The sauce is a labor of love and so delicious. It’s a many ingredient and time-consuming affair, but the delicious silky sauce is totally worth the time and ingredients.
This recipe using sweet corn reminded me of that tasty dish in a different way and took much less time to prepare. The sweetness of the corn complements the delicate flavor of halibut. You will want to use a Chardonnay without a lot of oak as the sauce brings out the best in this halibut dish. It can also be made with good quality frozen corn with an added 2 tablespoons of water or stock to replace the liquid from fresh corn.
Roasted Halibut with Corn Chardonnay Butter Sauce
Recipe courtesy from “The Inn on the Twenty Cookbook,” by Anna and Michael Olson, from “Halibut, The Cookbook,” edited by Karen Barnaby
6 6- ounce fresh halibut filets, skinned
2 tablespoons olive oil, for brushing
1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
Fresh lemon juice
1 cup unoaked Chardonnay
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup fresh corn, removed from the cob, liquid reserved (2 or 3 ears depending on size of corn)
½ cup butter, cut into pieces and chilled
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Place the halibut on the pan and lightly brush the fish with oil, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and ½ of the thyme.
Roast for 10 minutes or until the fish layers just pull away when touched with a fork. Sprinkle the fish with lemon juice immediately before serving.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by placing the Chardonnay, minced shallot, and reserved juice from the corn cobs into a small pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the corn and remaining thyme and bring to a simmer again. Reduce the heat to low and add cold butter 1 piece at a time, stirring until all the butter is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and serve over the halibut.
Enjoy the remaining Chardonnay with dinner.