Halibut with Huckleberry Sauce
Last August while in Butte, Montana for the An Re Ra Irish Festival, I was walking through the nearby farmers market and came across fresh huckleberries. Huckleberries grow wild in the Northwest, including western Montana and are a smallish dark purple berry that has been compared to a blueberry, however the taste is a unique blend of sweet dark berries and mouth puckering tartness. I bought all that was left, graciously allowing my sister to buy two bags for herself, and planned to make huckleberry jam with my purple hoard of berries. The best jams start with fresh ripe fruit and this jam surpassed all expectations. It was sweet, full of berry flavor, and had the bracing acidity that is the hallmark of huckleberries; my daughter said it tastes like a huckleberry sweet tart which was the best description of huckleberry jam I’ve come across.
I have eaten Alaskan salmon with a huckleberry sauce but have never had it with halibut, but it made sense to use these two Northwest flavors together. I had a perfect packet of halibut that was exactly one inch thick and about the perfect serving size for two people, so it was time to try pan searing again. Based on my past experience of reducing the cooking time by 30% for frozen fillets, I calculated it should only take 5 minutes to cook. I pan seared one side on top of the stove for 2 minutes and then turned the fillets and let them cook the remaining 3 minutes in a 450 degree oven. They still looked raw in the center (perfect!), but after sitting to rest for 10 minutes, they were perfectly cooked. I used a timer to be exact in my cooking times and feel that helped to conquer my fear of overcooking the fish.
The sauce was a modified gastrique sauce. As huckleberries are both tart and sweet, instead of adding an acidic vinegar to the jam, I used white wine and then added warm flavors with ginger and allspice. The sauce was both tart and sweet and fruity, but the wine tamed those flavors and it was a surprisingly balanced sauce. I served the fish with Tuscan kale sautéed with bacon, garlic, and onions and also drizzled lightly with the huckleberry sauce. I served an Arneis wine from Piedmont with the meal and also used it in the sauce.
If you’re not fortunate enough to live where there are huckleberries, you can order the jam on line or even buy jars of jam and syrup in major airports in the Pacific Northwest. Any way you obtain the jam, try it on halibut and savor the results.