Pallid halibut. Pallibutt.

It has taken me a long time to get used to American food. And I don’t mean those paragons of American cultural invasion — the pizzas and the hamburgers. I mean the food that actual, real-life Americans eat in their homes; the food that mothers, and increasingly, fathers, cook to feed their families. You know, the protein, vegetable and starch trifecta that graces dinner plates across the nation at 6:30pm, with a basket of rolls by the side. The meal that is etched in my mind in a multiplicity of images: a little sandy-haired boy wearing shorts, leaning over the dining table with his elbows, pushing peas around with his fork. The bright, skirted wife/mother carrying a big roasted bird on a tray. The suit-wearing father with his pipe, wearing a frilly apron as a joke, handing rolls around the table.

An American family at the dinner table

An American family at the dinner table

I don’t know where these images come from (probably from America’s giant lifestyle industry), but you catch my drift.

It has taken me a long time to get used to this type of meal. Being Indian, I could not understand how meat could be eaten without a lot of spices, or how starch could be eaten just by itself — without mixing in a lot of spicy gravy. And what kind of a way is it to cook vegetables anyway — just steaming? Meat cooked in a plain way is the most challenging — after a few bites, it feels like rubber. This, for example, is what I was used to for the first 24 years of my life:

Indian food image from Wikimedia Commons

Indian food image from Wikimedia Commons

Yes, I have had my challenges with the American meal. But since I married an American he has learned about my cuisine and I have learned about his. Now I can appreciate how the simplest of ingredients, unadorned, can please.

Hence this.

Halibut, cooked with a simple poaching. In milk. Turning it paler than pale. Pleasing my American husband immensely. And — can I admit it? Me too.

Pallid Halibut

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound halibut fillet
  • 1 cup milk
  • half an onion, minced
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 10 or so whole black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste

Method:

Collect the whole spices and minced onion in a pan. Pour milk over and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle salt over the fish and lay into the simmering milk; salt some of the surrounding milk as well. Keep ladling some of the milk over the fish along with the spices and onion once in a while. In about 15 to 20 minutes, while you keep the milk at a simmer, it should be done.

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So — about done-ness. This is a concept that was new to me from Western cooking. The simplest way to check is to use a Thermapen thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish — it should reach around 140 F. Another method is just to use a fork to see if the fish flakes easily and is opaque all the way in. Of course, some people like it more translucent.

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Here is my pallid hallibut, the center of our very American meal that evening.

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