Nothing says summertime majesty like a tender fish filet in crisp, lacy batter, slathered in luscious tartar sauce. Correction: nothing says the perfect time of year like the aforementioned fish. A good piece of halibut, carefully breaded and fried, is a welcome addition year-round assuming that I can get my hands on some.
The secret ingredient that makes this recipe sing is the caper aioli – a homemade mayonnaise enlivened with capers, cocktail onions, tarragon and lemon, this condiment tastes of a majesty so great that one would think that you slaved over the stuff. But that’s not the case. Pop the ingredients into the blender and whirr away until the mixture thickens to absolute perfection.
Deep frying always takes a little bit of time and energy, so consider making this with friends that will help prep the toppings and tuck into the goodness once all is prepped. And while the oil is hot, you might as well toss in a tangle of shoestring potatoes for some fries on the side. It’ll up the beachy goodness quotient of the meal, reminding you that summertime can be anytime.
Crispy Halibut Po’boy with Caper Aioli
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 tsp. of non-pareil capers
4 cocktail onions
1 tbs. of chopped dill pickle
1 tbs. of chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp. of dijon mustard
1/4 c. of olive oil
1/2 c. of vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 c. of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. of masa harina or cornmeal
3 tbs. of garlic powder
1 tbs. of paprika
1 tbs. of salt
1 tbs. of onion powder
1 tsp. of white pepper
1 tsp. of black pepper
2 tsp. of cayenne pepper (can add 1 tbs. for more of a kick)
2 c. of buttermilk
1 tbs. of paprika
1 tbs. of garlic powder
1 tbs. of salt
vegetable oil for frying
2 lbs. of halibut, cut into 6 even portions kosher salt for sprinkling
1 loaf of ciabatta, cut into 6 portions and halved (can substitute 6 hero rolls)
2 c. of fresh arugula
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
Begin by making the caper aioli. To a blender, add the egg, minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of the capers, the cocktail onions, pickles, tarragon and dijon mustard. Zest the lemon with a microplane and add the zest to the blender. Cut the lemon in half and juice one half into the blender, reserving the other half for the fish. Blend on high to combine. With the lid on but the hopper on the cover open (the little hole in the middle to add ingredients while blending), slowly stream in the olive oil and vegetable oil a little at a time, allowing the mixture to thicken into a sauce. It should be a little looser than mayonnaise. Pour the aioli into a sealable container and stir in the remaining 4 teaspoons of capers. Taste for salt and pepper, re-season if necessary and then seal and refrigerate.
Time to make the crispy halibut – begin by grabbing a shallow dish for the dry flour mixture and another shallow dish for the buttermilk. In the dish for the dry mixture, add the flour, masa harina (or cornmeal), 3 tbs. of garlic powder, 1 tbs. of paprika, 1 tbs. of salt, onion powder, white pepper, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix well with a fork and set aside. In the second dish, add the buttermilk and one tablespoon each of the paprika, garlic powder and salt. Whisk gently with a fork and set aside. Before you move to the next step and fry your fish, line a cookie sheet with a rack or several paper towels and place on the ready for the fish as it emerges from the pan.
In a cast-iron skillet or wok, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350° (alternatively, you can cook the fish in a deep fat fryer if you have one). While the oil heats, bread two of the fish filets at a time, dipping them in the buttermilk batter first and then into the dry mixture, liberally coating with the flour. Slip the fish fillets into the hot oil, cooking for 2 minutes on each side. Place the fish on the rack or cookie sheet and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt while still hot. Repeat steps above for the remaining four fish filets.
It’s sandwich assembling time! Grab your caper aioli from the fridge, the other half of the lemon and the arugula. In a small bowl, toss the arugula with 2 tbs. of the caper aioli. Put a small amount of the arugula on the bottom of a ciabatta half. Squeeze the reserved lemon half over the fried fish, and top the arugula with one of the filets. Place a few tomato slices on top of the fish and drizzle liberally with the caper aioli. Top with the other ciabatta half and serve. Repeat steps above to make 6 sandwiches total, serving them while they’re still piping hot.
Note: I use halibut in this recipe, but feel free to substitute any firm, white fish, such as cod, tilapia or catfish. You can even use peeled fresh shrimp or shucked oysters for a New Orleans classic po’boy experience.