The olive oil poaching technique gives the halibut an incredibly tender, silky texture. It's important to let the fish sit at room temperature for about an hour before poaching; straight-from-the-fridge halibut will dramatically lower the temperature of the oil and throw off the cooking time.
In a small (8-inch) skillet over medium-low heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant and just starting to color, about 3 minutes. Add the saffron, shake to combine, and immediately remove from the heat and cool. Grind the fennel and saffron to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Add 1 tsp. salt and stir to combine. Sprinkle the spice mixture all over the halibut and rub lightly so it adheres. Let the fish sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 225°F.
Measure the thickness of the halibut steaks and add the same depth of oil to a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan. Heat over low heat until the oil reaches 120°F, 2 to 3 minutes. Put the halibut steaks in the oil in a single layer and immediately transfer the pan to the oven. Poach until a few small whitish droplets rise to the surface of the steaks and the fish near the bone maintains a trace of transparency, 25 minutes. Transfer the halibut to a wire rack to drain for a few minutes. Remove the skin and bones before serving.
Serve with Israeli couscous or butter-braised radishes and peas.
nutrition information (per serving):
39, Fat Calories
350, Saturated Fat
26, Monounsaturated Fat
1, Polyunsaturated Fat
Photo: Scott Phillips