Last Friday Steven and I visited my favorite place in Seattle, Pike Place Market. We don't go there very often so I took the opportunity to splurge on all kinds of goodies. First we hit up World Spice Merchants, which is in my opinion Seattle's best spice house. If you live in the area and haven't been there you really owe it to yourself to go. They ground my allspice when I ordered it so it was as fresh as can be. Who knows how long that preground allspice has been sitting on that supermarket shelf? Next we perused the produce stands where I splurged on one, yes just one, blood orange. Along the way we tried some 25 year aged balsamic vinegar and some fig balsamic (both of which were simply amazing). We sampled some artisan chocolate pasta that you could eat dry and uncooked. Then off to the butcher for veal shanks ($12.90 a pound, ouch). Finally to the fishmonger, where the selection of seafood is just overwhelming: scallops the size of your palm, crimson fillets of king salmon, and fresh wild-caught halibut cheeks. At $16.99 a pound, there was definitely some hesitation, but I thought what the heck, it's still cheaper than dining out, so I got half a pound.
For the Chinese, the cheek is the most coveted part of the fish, prized for its sweet flavor and tenderness. Chopsticks gently pry this delicacy out from the cavity below the eyes and it is then offered to the guest of honor. The cheek of a typical steamed fish is a tiny morsel about the size of a raisin. However, the ginormous halibut will yield a behemoth of a cheek that are almost the size of a deck of playing cards. Eating a plate of only fish cheeks? It sounds too good to be true, almost wrong... yet so right.
I wanted to showcase the fish cheeks amazing flavor and texture so it required very little dressing up. This beautiful piece of fish requires no fancy sauce, just a little salt and pepper.The buttery taste of yukon golds pairs perfectly with the buttery fish. (I think the best mashed potatoes are made with yukon golds, russets are too bland and boring). The potatoes are topped with a little chive oil for the tiniest oniony kick and finally, a squeeze of lemon juice on the cheeks provides the perfect acidic note to counter the richness of the fish and potatoes.
Oh and what did Steven say?
"Hey guess what?" "We're eating haliBUTTCHEEKS. lol."
Halibut Cheeks with Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Chive Oil
1/2 lb halibut cheeks
Salt and pepper
Roughly 2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp Butter
Mashed Yukon Golds
1 lb Yukon Gold Potatoes
3 Tbsp butter, cut into 3 pieces
Salt and pepper
(optional: 1/2 tsp lemon zest for lemon scented mashed potatoes)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp olive oil (or more)
Lemon wedges for serving
First make the chive oil, finely mince the chives and mix with olive oil and set aside to infuse.
Scrub the potatoes and dig out any emerging roots. Leave the potatoes whole and place them in a saucepan and fill with about half an inch of water. Simmer until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 15 - 25 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.
Leave the heat on. After all the potatoes are tender (smaller potatoes will require less time than the larger potatoes), peel the potatoes, then put them through a potato ricer, a food mill using the coarse disc, or mash with a potato masher. A ricer or food mill will produce the fluffiest potatoes. Rice the potatoes back into or mash them directly in the hot pot back on heat for a minute to dry out the potatoes. Then using a rubber spatula, fold in 3 tablespoons of butter and season with salt and pepper (optional ingredient: add some lemon zest for lemon scented potatoes). Keep warm until serving.
Season the cheeks with a little salt and pepper then dredge them in flour, shaking off the excess. The cheeks cook very quickly, like scallops, and will only take about minute or two per side. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat heat. When the foaming stops, add the cheeks and cook until the first side is golden brown, 1 - 2 minutes. Flip over and cook the second side until golden brown, 1 - 2 minutes.
Place a mound of mashed potatoes on the plate, spoon some chive oil on top, and place the cheeks ontop of the mashed potatoes and squeeze some lemon juice on top. Serve immediately.