Whip Up Chef Chris’ Dish of the Year: Poached Pacific Halibut with Saffron Aioli & Pommes Allumettes

When you’re on a roll, just keep rolling. Isn’t that the saying? It certainly seems like a great motto for Chef Chris of The Desmond Hotel & Conference Center. He’s grabbed his new position as Director of Food and Beverage by the horns and didn’t stop there. Going on to win Dish of the Year at Philly Cooks 2012, he also found time to interview with Town Dish not too long ago.

Although he’s a man of many talents, he can’t be in more than one place at a time, chatting with every fan about his favorite recipes. Luckily, we have the best of the best right here; a recipe for Chef Chris’ Dish of the Year, just in time for summertime cooking. Enjoy!

Pacific Halibut Fillet Poached in White Wine over Tomato-Orange Braised Kale with Saffron Aïoli and Pommes Allumettes

Yield: 4 portions

Step One: Prepare the pommes allumettes

2 large russet potatoes, washed with skin on
8 cups oil for frying, such as safflower
Salt and ground white pepper to taste

Using a kitchen mandolin, evenly cut the potatoes lengthwise into matchsticks measuring 1/8 inch height by 1/8 inch width. In a bowl of cool water, wash the white starch off of the matchsticks, drain and pat dry on a towel before frying. To fry, heat the oil to 325°F in a large pot. Be certain the potato matchsticks are patted dry and place them in the hot oil. After 30 seconds, begin to stir the matchsticks and cook until evenly deep golden brown. Drain over paper towels and season with salt and pepper while still warm. Set aside until assembly.

Step Two: Prepare the saffron aioli

2/3 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup neutral flavored oil, such as grapeseed or safflower
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 large pinch saffron threads, or ½ tsp. saffron powder
2 Tbsp. water
½ Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon to taste
Salt and ground white pepper to taste

In a blender, combine both oils with the peeled garlic and saffron. Blend at high speed until the garlic is finely puréed. In a mixing bowl, combine the water, egg yolk and Dijon mustard and whisk together well for one minute. Slowly begin to drizzle in the saffron-garlic oil one tabkespoon at a time. Be certain that each portion of oil is well incorporated before adding the next portion. After you have emulsified one-third of the saffron-garlic oil into the egg yolks, begin to incorporate the remainder of the oil in a thin, steady stream while consistently whisking. Season the aioli to taste with salt, white pepper and fresh lemon juice. Reserve refrigerated until assembly.

Step Three: Prepare the braised kale

2 bunches fresh lacinato kale or green leaf kale
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus additional 2 Tbsp. to finish
2 shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup of fresh tomato juice
2 Tbsp. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Set a medium pot of water to boil with three tablespoons of salt. Remove the largest stems from the kale and plunge into the boiling water. Blanch the kale for four minutes, drain and cool in ice water. Dry the kale from the ice water and coarsely chop as desired. In a separate sauce pot, melt the two tablespoons of butter and gently cook the garlic and shallot for one minute. Make sure not to brown the garlic. Add the chopped kale, orange juice and tomato juice all at once and bring to a simmer. Lightly season with salt and white pepper, cover with a lid and slowly simmer over low heat for approximately one hour. After one hour, add the remaining two tablespoons of butter and the olive oil and adjust the final seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Reserve warm until the halibut is poached.

Step Four: Prepare the poached halibut

4 portions fresh Pacific halibut fillet, approximately 7 oz. per piece
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup Chardonnay
1/3 cup San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water
Semi-coarse sea salt, fleur de sel or any high-quality salt to taste
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

Using a glass baking dish or large sauté pan, spread the softened butter over the entire bottom. Place the fillets of halibut in and add the Chardonnay and mineral water. Do not season the fish with salt and pepper before cooking. Cover with buttered parchment paper that has been cut in the same shape as the cooking vessel to insulate the tops of the halibut fillets. Bring the pan or dish to a light simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and bake at 300°F oven for eight minutes. With a spoon, carefully baste each fillet of halibut with the poaching liquid. Return back to the oven, still covered with parchment paper, and continue to cook until desired doneness. Using a meat thermometer, an internal temperature of 145°F will be thoroughly cooked and very moist.

Final Step: Assemble the entrée

Place an ample portion of the braised kale on the plates along with some of the broth it was braised in. Carefully remove the halibut fillets from the pan and place on top of the kale. Aggressively season the fillets on the top surface with high-quality salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a large dollop of the saffron aioli over the halibut and garnish with a generous amount of the pommes allumettes.