When you take flavorful ingredients like anchovies, garlic, and nuts and smack them together into a paste, they don’t just become a sauce you can smear or soften in oil, but one you can unleash to bloom in water to flavor just about anything, instantly. Or, as Martha Rose Shulman says, “And voilà: a quick Mediterranean broth.” Here, it’s a delicate fish like halibut (or whatever is swimming nearer to you)—but you can use this technique with all sorts of other things that would benefit from a flavor boost: greens, pasta, couscous, beans. Not only is the trick speedy, it’s endlessly customizable. Pound in shallots or fennel seed or chiles at will, as you might when DIYing herby salsas and pestos. Adapted slightly from the New York Times. —Genius Recipes
lightly toasted almonds
garlic cloves, green shoots removed, or 4 green garlic cloves
Salt and black pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil
5- to 6-ounce halibut fillets (or substitute another firm, mild fish)
baby potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch pieces, or small potatoes, halved and sliced about 3/4-inch thick
asparagus, trimmed and cut in 2-inch lengths (or when asparagus isn’t in season, substitute another green like spinach or peas)
Crush saffron threads between your fingers and place in a small bowl or ramekin. Add 1 tablespoon warm water and set aside.
In a mortar and pestle, pound together almonds, garlic and anchovies along with a pinch of salt into a paste. Set aside.
In a heavy straight-sided skillet or wide saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Season fish with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, sear fish for 1 minute on each side. Remove to a plate or platter.
Reduce heat to medium and add anchovy paste to pan. Cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pan, until garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Stir in 3 cups water and stir to deglaze bottom of pan.
Add potatoes and a pinch of salt. (Don’t salt to taste now or broth will become too salty when reduced later.) Bring to a boil. Add saffron with soaking water, reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Carefully add seared halibut fillets and asparagus to pan. Tip in any liquid that has accumulated on the plate or platter, and bring back to a bare simmer. Cover and poach gently for 5 minutes, or until fish is opaque and asparagus is tender. With a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully remove fish fillets to 4 warm wide soup bowls. (If your fish fillets start to break apart, don’t worry! Re-brand this as more of a seafood stew and it will still be delicious.) If necessary, simmer asparagus for another minute or 2. It should be tender but not too soft.
Divide potatoes and asparagus among the bowls. Turn up heat and reduce liquid in pan by half, stirring. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in parsley and basil and simmer 20 to 30 seconds. Spoon broth over fish and vegetables and serve.