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Dinner Rush! Italian Seared Halibut With Melted Leeks

Easy Italian Halibut

In my hometown in upstate New York, we’re going green in lots of ways — especially at the grocery store. I’m bringing in those eco-savvy reusable tote bags by the pallet right now because the produce section is exploding with delicious new spring harvests. Stumbling upon a particularly beautiful bunch of leeks the other day, my husband’s Simpsons-esque moment of Zen, of “mmm … melted leeks,” totally nailed it.

Melted leeks, I find, are one of those preparations that taste super indulgent without really being as such. Cooking down a mountain of leeks with some white wine, butter and herbs into a creamy side dish with just a bit of that beautiful spring onion flavor is like heaven in a skillet. Keeping things light, yet satisfying, I added some mushrooms to the mix and topped it all off with a piece of seared halibut spiked with a cap of classic Italian gremolata. (I got on a green kick, what can I say?)

Melted leeks are also a great transition side dish. As we upstaters can rock a T-shirt during the day but still need that down comforter at night for the next couple of weeks, such is dinnertime. I want a meal that is light and springy, yet satisfying enough for a night’s sleep with a bit of chill still stuck on it.  Thanks, melted leeks, for the delicious dinner and comfy night’s sleep.

Italian Seared Halibut With Melted Leeks

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

For the melted leeks:
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 (8- to 10-ounce) pack whole cremini mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 small leeks, halved and thinly sliced, washed well and dried
Salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets

To prepare the melted leeks, place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring only occasionally, until they’re golden brown and beginning to shrink a bit, 6 to 7 minutes. (NOTE: Don’t salt the mushrooms while they’re browning. The salt will pull the moisture out of them and they’ll end up stewing instead of getting a nice golden-brown sear.) Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and reserve.

Return the skillet to medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the butter. Add the leeks to the pan, season them will salt and pepper, then cook, stirring frequently (don’t let them get brown), until they’ve softened, about 10 minutes. Add the white wine and dried oregano to the skillet along with the reserved mushrooms, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes more. Season as needed with salt and pepper; reserve warm.

While the leeks are cooking, prepare the gremolata. In a small mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and reserve.

When the leeks are just about ready, place a second medium skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Season the fish liberally with salt and pepper, and sear it flesh side down first, turning the fillet only once, until cooked to your liking, about 5 minutes per side for medium (depending on the thickness).

Serve the melted leeks topped with a piece of fish per plate and a garnish of the gremolata.

NOTE: A gremolata is a traditional Italian garnish of garlic, herbs and lemon zest, used typically to lighten up heavy roasted or braised dishes such as braciole or ossobuco. I had parsley and lemon on hand, so that’s what I used, but you really can’t go wrong any which way. Try using some tarragon and lemon zest with chicken — or even rosemary and lemon zest over a sliced steak. It’s an elegant and simple finish that brings a great pop of freshness to almost any meal.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.

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