Feeling Cheeky

I keep wishing we could eat more fish—I’ve been feeling kind of deprived here in land-locked Colorado, especially since my mother is not a big seafood eater. We did just get our very first bottle of mint-flavored, emulsified, fermented cod liver oil from Green Pasture, which should be good for our health, but is not exactly as appealing to eat as a piece of fresh salmon.

So we paid a visit to the fish counter at Whole Foods yesterday, and came away with a parcel of halibut cheeks. (I also suggested the whole yellowtail snapper, which was incredibly fresh and much less expensive, but my mom was too squeamish at the prospect of eating something that was eyeing her back. Understandable, but one day I’ll talk her into it!) I’d never cooked fish cheeks before, but everything I could find out suggested that I should cook them something like scallops, seared for just a minute or two on each side.

Because halibut is so expensive, we bought only two-thirds of a pound, which amounted to two small pieces per person and made the accompaniments that much more important. I had a small head of broccoli and a few sweet potatoes to use up, and I decided to tie all these disparate threads together with a silky orange beurre blanc. Just for a little added interest, I coated the halibut cheeks with almond meal, and beat a little almond butter and coconut milk, smoked paprika, and garlic into the sweet potato puree.

This was a fantastic dinner, and gluten-free to boot. My mom ate all of her fish, and my dad, after an initial request for tartar sauce that made me cringe, cleaned his plate and went back into the kitchen, hopeful for seconds. Even Nolan ate a bite or two of halibut before returning to his slice of chocolate chip oatmeal banana bread.

Almond-Crusted Halibut Cheeks with Orange Beurre Blanc

2-3 halibut cheeks per person
Almond meal or raw almonds ground in the food processor
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1-2 Cara Cara oranges (about 1/2 C)
1 T orange zest
1/4 C white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 T shallots)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh thyme)
1/4 C unsalted butter
2 T heavy cream

Mix a small bowlful of almond meal with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, and dredge the halibut cheeks with the mixture on all sides. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat with a splash of olive oil and saute the cheeks for 1-2 minutes on each side, until the crust is golden brown and the fish is just cooked through like a scallop. Be careful not to overcook.

Meanwhile, combine the orange juice, zest, white wine, garlic, and thyme in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat and reduce liquid to 1/4 C. Cut the heat and whisk in the butter a tablespoon at a time, then add the cream; the sauce should thicken up somewhat. Strain before serving with the fish, if desired, and if you are serving sweet potatoes and broccoli, make sure to splash some over those as well!

As for the sweet potatoes, they were largely improvised: Two medium-sized orange sweet potatoes roasted in their skins until tender at 400F, then peeled and pureed in my food processor with about half a cup of leftover coconut milk, a tablespoon of almond butter, and sprinkles of smoked paprika, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

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