Montana has this habit of turning me inside out. Every year, it shakes me up, tosses me around, and gently leaves me at the side of the road, temporarily blinded, totally exhilarated, and questioning everything. I’ve tried to deconstruct why it has this power over me, but sometimes overthinking gets you nowhere. My point is, I’m still trying to make sense of this year’s trip, and I’m not there yet.
That this place has such a power over me speaks not only to the magnitude of the landscape but also to the value of taking a physical and mental break from the day-to-day. Out there, I have the luxury of being engaged by the present: the dramatic, craggy mountains, the deep, glacier-carved valleys, the turquoise-hued lakes, the over-the-top fields of wildflowers (and yes, we sang songs from The Sound of Music, because those hills are alive); and the unparalleled experience of hiking through woods in which grizzly bears are hanging out. There is really nothing comparable to being in a place that reminds us that we’re not top dog. The fact of the bears’ presence colors so much of the experience of being in those mountains, and it’s humbling, to say the least.
While I may not be mentally home, I am bodily back in my city, and this body is back to eating the kind of breezy, end-of-summer fare that I was all over prior to my departure. (Intense craving for juicy bison burgers notwithstanding!) So here’s some breezy California eating at its finest: delicate halibut, a substantive marinade, and some crisp watermelon pickles and watercress to balance the spicy and the sweet. Bon appetit.
GINGER SESAME HALIBUT WITH SPICY WATERMELON PICKLES
marinade adapted from Real Simple
For the fish:
1/2 pound halibut
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces watercress, rinsed
2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
shichimi-togaroshi or gomasio, garnish
chopped fresh chervil, garnish
For the pickles:
watermelon rind, enough to fill a quart jar, green outer peel removed
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoon sugar
2 cups rice vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chile flakes
First, make the pickles. Prep the watermelon rind by removing any red flesh and peeling away the tough outer rind. Slice into bite-size chunks.
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and chili flakes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat.
Have your canning jars cleaned and filled with hot water until you’re ready to put the rinds in.
Fill your canning jars with watermelon rind. (A single quart jar or smaller pint jars will work great.) Pour the hot brine over the watermelon. Let sit until the brine has cooled, then refrigerate. These pickles need to sit at least overnight to develop, but giving them a couple of days is even better.
Next, prepare the fish. Combine the toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, chile flakes and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the fish to the marinade. Marinate for no more than twenty minutes – any longer and the halibut will lose its firm texture.
You can either grill the halibut over a medium hot grill, about four minutes per side, or pan-fry over a medium-hot flame in a skillet for the same amount of time. In either context, start halibut with the skin side down.
Toss the watercress with oil and vinegar.
To plate: divide the watercress between two plates. Top each with one half of the halibut. Garnish with a few watermelon pickles. Enjoy.