Immersion circulators have taken over restaurants of all stripes—pop-ups, sandwich counters, hotels, and chef-ateliers—with traditional French techniques becoming far less common and relevant among young cooks. Enter Chef Jacob Sessoms and his show-stopping, luxurious halibut that he cooks improbably, but with possibly the most obvious technique available: butter poaching.
Sessoms, who helped pioneer Asheville, North Carolina’s vibrant food scene at Table, is more pragmatist than purist with his approach. “This fish is something we would normally throw in vacuum bag and sous vide, but we decided to do it the old-fashioned way,” he says. “I feel like we can control the end result much better, and we can do it all à la minute.”
Sessoms learned how to fat poach at home and refined his skills in kitchens from New York to North Carolina. “It’s a way I commonly cooked 10 years ago,” he says. But only recently has he started to reevaluate uses for fat poaching in his kitchen. “It’s interesting how opposed we’ve been to [fat poaching], and now rediscovering how fantastic it is with certain proteins.” Halibut, in particular, lends itself to butter poaching (along with salmon, sable, and cod). “It’s such a soft fish and an easy fish to cook too far. It does really well with a hard, quick roast or really slow cooking.”
Sessoms opted for slow cooking in a dish this fall that centered not on fish but loads of fresh turmeric and ginger, delivered to Table by a local farmer. His kitchen first paired the roots with radicchio, young sweet potatoes, and vin cotto for a salad, which evolved into a large plate of Butter-poached Halibut, Radicchio, Roasted Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, and Vin Cotto.
For the preparation, Sessoms cooks skinned halibut filets in butter from start to fish, first searing the fish to add visual and textural contrast (and lend flavor to seared radicchio that’s cooked in the same pan) and then submerging the filet in a bath in browned turmeric- and ginger-infused butter. Held at 325ºF in a devoted oven for 15 minutes, the halibut emerges from its fragrant, fatty swim just cooked and nearly falling apart. “Don’t be afraid to undercook the fish,” says Sessoms. “The fish should just be warm in the middle by the time you serve it.”
As long as the oven temperature stays steady, the butter will last through service, or about 20 portions. Thankfully Sessoms is holding steady the proven, old-school technique of butter poaching, finally letting halibut out of the bag.
Butter-poached Halibut Technique:
- Infuse butter with turmeric, ginger, and garlic, bringing it to brown stage; strain out solids.
- Pour butter into a hotel pan so it measures 2 inches deep; place in an oven set to 325 ºF.
- In butter, sear one side of a halibut filet.
- Remove from pan and place into the oven in the infused butter.
- Cook 15 minutes and carefully remove from oven.