Friday, September 1, 2017

halibut salad melt


Please do not imagine that dinner time at my house always finds us enjoying impeccable meals. I can make some real stinkers. Almost more frustrating than a dinner that completely bombs is one that is just like okay. If dinner is a full acknowledged disaster, we can move on and enjoy a bowl of frosted flakes. But when dinner is just okay, we trudge through it. I found myself in such a situation recently when I tried a new recipe for Proven├žal halibut. It was pan fried halibut steaks with a sauce of tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and basil. Except I forgot to add the basil. But I don’t think that’s what doomed the dish. I wanted to try something different with halibut and landed on this and it did turn out to be different, we just didn’t like it that much. I served it with parmesan roasted cauliflower, which I liked better than anything else on my plate.

The next day, I was going to have the leftover halibut with sauce for lunch and realized I was really not excited about it. Also, most of the time, fish is terrible reheated. I once worked in a building with a sign in the breakroom stating that microwaving fish was not allowed. No matter how fresh the fish, the smell of it reheating is pretty unappetizing. So, here I was, not looking forward to lunch and I decided to cut my losses. Rather than doctor up the Proven├žal sauce further, I pulled the halibut steaks from it, made a little halibut salad, layered it on thick slices of sourdough bread, and broiled it with a lid of cheddar and parmesan cheese. It was the opposite of okay. It was like, brilliantly good.

I am a little tempted to call this a tartine. I basically live to call an open-faced sandwich tartine. (I never mind a little pretension.) Tartine is the French word for an open-faced sandwich, but, while this includes gorgeous halibut, it’s roots are more diner. I think melt sandwiches are the hero of leftovers. This sandwich could easily be made with leftover salmon, canned tuna or grilled chicken. I think the success of a melt hinges on two items: some type of pickle element and a good amount of toasted cheese. Without a vinegary bite, it is almost too luxurious- all that gorgeous mayonnaise and cheese is best enjoyed with a little relief for the palate, be it from relish, pickle or caper. I happen to really love capers with halibut but feel free to substitute what you enjoy best. As for cheese, I use whatever is in the fridge. The only requirement being it needs to melt well and also there should be enough of it. This is not time to skimp.

Which brings me to a note about the bread. One of the things I was just sure I was going to have to give up when moving to small town, was artisan bread. My Trader Joes in SoCal spoiled me and I was used to boules and long baguettes. Post-move, I thought it would be Orowheat and wonder bread from here on out and that good bread was something I would need to learn to make. I made my peace with that. Dang, was I wrong. About a 5 minute walk from our rental house is Vinman's Bakery and the folks there make the most gorgeous bread. They have their classics (multi-grain, sourdough, etc) and then everyday there are additional bread specials with names like German Farm Bread and Orange Raisin Rye (both excellent). I am slowly making my way through it all. My routine is the dogs and I walk Josh to work and then once or twice a week we stop back at the bakery. I tether the dogs outside and step in to a space filled with the smells of yeast and flour and pastry filled with cream and rhubarb compote (heaven). When you buy a loaf, the helpful bakery staff offer to slice it up on their fancy slicing machine. The other day when I picked out my selection, the gentleman behind the counter apologized and said the bread was too warm for them to pre-slice for me. I grinned like an idiot at the thought of someone apologizing for warm bread. The puppies and I returned home to a second breakfast of fresh bread with butter.

Halibut salad melts

Makes two large open-faced sandwiches

Halibut salad:
2 cups cooked halibut, broken into bite sized pieces
¼ cup good mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped celery (about 2 small ribs)
scant ¼ cup chopped scallions (about 1 scallion)
1 ½ tablespoons drained capers
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

to assemble:
2 large slices of thick bread, lightly toasted
½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 medium tomato

1) Mix together the halibut salad. To avoid smashing the fish too much, gently toss all the ingredients together with a fork.

2) Move an oven rack to the highest placement and turn the oven broiler to high. 

3) On a rimmed cookie sheet place the two large slices of toasted bread (I toast mine in the broiler, but you're welcome to use a toaster. The key is to just lightly toast it, as the bread will get another dose of heat from the broiler). Top bread with generous scoops of the halibut salad and then distribute the cheese.


4) Place under broiler and broil until cheese melts and starts to bubble. Keep an eye on it- it only takes moments under the broiler to go from toasty perfection to inedible charcoal.


5) Remove from heat and let stand momentarily. Serve topped with slices of tomato. Sprouts are also good.

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