Steamed Halibut with Miso Udon Noodle Bowl
It seems that I’ve been dragging my heels a bit. I started writing this post almost two weeks ago when this meal was penitence for our hot wing mac’n'cheese. Then, apparently I saved the draft, shrugged, and decided to drink the rest of the sake bottle instead. Such is life. I suppose that the benefits of making a light, heart healthy dinner like this are somewhat tempered when you chase down leftovers with warm rice wine and then start eying the bottle of Chinese cooking wine in a slightly too contemplative way, but I’ll take what I can get.
Steamy noodle bowls that are chock full of tender-crisp vegetables and lean meats are a particular favorite of mine, because they fill me up but in a totally guilt free way. After all, how can you possibly second guess yourself when you’re taming the gullet with what is essentially a half-breed sprung from your favorite Japanese soup and some salad greens? You just can’t.
Steamed Halibut with Miso Udon Noodle Bowl
Serves 6 very respectfully
- 2 large 12 oz Pacific halibut fillets (3/4 kg or about 1.75 lb) *
- small package soba noodles (250g or about 1/2 lb)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2″ stem ginger, peeled
- 2 small bunches scallion (about 8-10 thin stems)
- 1/4 cup sake **
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1/2 oz dried trumpet or shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp chili oil
- 1/4 cup tamari ***
- 1.5 tbsp ponzu ***
- 1 cup clam juice or fish stock
- 1/4 cup white miso (shiro)
- 1/2 head chinese lettuce
- small bag enoki mushroom (200 g or about 2 cups)
- 2 large handfuls (about 2 cups) baby spinach
- small bunch cilantro
* I love fish, all fish, but I’ve been trying very hard to be cognizant of sustainability in our fine finny friends. Although Atlantic halibut is being given the deep six right now, Pacific halibut is currently still a feasible alternative.
** If you do not have sake you can substitute with a dry sherry or Xiao Hsing (Chinese cooking wine).
*** No tamari or ponzu? C’mon guys, these are staples! Or rather, they’re staples for me because I’m lucky enough to have a wealth of Asian grocery stores on my beat. You can substitute light (or regular) soya sauce for the tamari and a ratio of 2/3 orange juice to 1/3 soya sauce with a dash of Worcestershire will do for the ponzu, if you have a pinch.
PS – sorry about the awful picture, where apparently everything in cellophane is a tightly kept secret….
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Keep a small cup of ice water close by. Add the soba noodles to the pot and if they foam and start to boil over add a dash or two of the ice water to quell the roiling seas. Boil the noodles for about 3 minutes or until they’re pliable but still somewhat al dente. Drain the soba in a colander and rinse repeatedly under cold water until the noodles are cool to the touch and the water runs clear. Then rinse them again.
I know that you’re thinking, “What kind of a heathen IS this woman?” Believe me when I tell you that the rules for boiling a durum wheat pasta don’t apply in the same way to soba. These noodles are full of starch and if you don’t rinse them well they will mound together in a starchy mass an inedible mass after they cool.
Finely slice the garlic and peeled ginger. Chop half of the scallions (1 bunch) into lengths of about 1″ each. Add the aromatics along with the dried mushrooms to the pot of your steamer and pour the sake, mirin, clam juice (or fish stock) and 2 cups of water over top.
A quick note on the mushrooms, because I am a lazy slattern who sometimes regrets her decisions despite the fact that I’ll make the same choices again in the future. I think that the rehydrated mushrooms add to the final broth, and I always just half-heartedly toss them into the pot and then fish them out of the steaming mess of refuse afterward. I know that this is not the right thing to do. I get that. If you’re a smarter person than I apparently am, you would probably choose to tie the bundle up in a piece of cheesecloth before throwing them into the mix.
Put the pot over medium high heat until it comes to a boil.
Now then, on to the fish. Cut the halibut into 6 pieces that are all roughly the same size (about 4 oz each). Season the halibut with salt and pepper before laying it skin side down into a lightly oiled steamer insert.
Steam the halibut over the flavorful sake infused broth for 7-10 minutes, or just until it is firm to the touch but still a wee bit under-done. The halibut will continue to cook as it rests, and then again when it is warmed through by the broth. And hey, halibut don’t come cheap so you really don’t want to play a loose hand when you’re cooking it.
As soon as the halibut is ready take the steamer baskets off the pot and strain the liquid through a wire mesh. Discard all of the solids except for those lovely re-hydrated mushrooms which can go back in.
Measure the stock that you have (there should be about 1.75 – 2 cups) and add enough water to bring it up to 5 cups. Pour this into a soup pot set over medium heat.
Ladle 1/2 cup of the hot stock into a bowl and add the miso paste. Stir it until it is a smooth, loose sauce and pour this back into the soup. Stir in the tamari, ponzu and chili sauce. Give it a taste, and add more tamari or soya sauce (for salt) or mirin (for sweet) to taste. Keep this at a nice simmering bubble while you ready the rest of the garnishes.
The Chinese lettuce leaves are fairly thin (although they get dense like a cabbage closer to the base) so cut these into large chunks. Finely slice the second bunch of green onions and give a rough chop to the cilantro. Lay out the spinach and mushrooms as you see fit.
Divide the soba noodles (you almost forgot about them, didn’t you?) among the six bowls. Put a small handful of the Chinese lettuce over top and intersperse with enoki mushroom.
Sprinkle some of the scallion and cilantro into the bowl and crown it with a loose handful of baby spinach.
Pour a few ladles of steaming hot broth into the bowl, until the liquid is at the same height as the vegetables. Gently lay a piece of your warm steamed fish on top and garnish with another once-over of cilantro and scallion if you feel the yen. Obviously, I do.
If you like your vegetables more tender than crispy, you could either drop the cabbage and company into the broth for the last minute of boiling, or you could let them steep for a few minutes before adding the spinach, scallion and cilantro and ladling a tad more broth over top.
Here goes my glamor shot of perfectly steamed white fish, laid to rest on it’s watery grave….as long as we can replace ‘watery’ for ‘flavorful miso broth’ and ‘grave’ for ‘purgatory, soon to be in stomach-land’.
My favorite part of this meal is that I can eat gluttonously and yet still keep my dignity, because there is almost no fat in this dish and the bowl is full healthy tender-crisp vegetables, fiber rich starches and just enough lean protein to keep the wolves of hunger at bay.
Now if only I can keep making meals like this instead of meals like this, I might actually be able to hold my head up high when I try to squeeze into a wedding dress this fall!