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20th May
written by Steph

Mushroom & Pea Risotto with Pan-Seared Halibut

A few weeks ago, Tony and I took our dear friend Trisha out to dinner to celebrate her birthday.  We went to a restaurant called, Marché, that specializes in simple – but delicious – French dishes.  That evening, Trisha ordered the halibut and risotto combo, which really captured my imagination.  I decided I wanted to try to recreate it (with my own twists, naturally) at home.

Ingredients (serves 4, generously) For the Risotto
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups of diced mushrooms
  • ½ onion, finely minced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine (we used a Bogle sauvignon blanc that was wonderful)
  • 2 – 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • zest from ½ a lemon
  • salt & pepper
For the Halibut
  • 4 4-ounce pieces of halibut (or another firm, white fish)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • juice from ½ lemon
  1. Risotto takes a while to cook (30 – 40 minutes… if you’re lucky!), so that will be your primary focus until the very end.  Start by pre-cooking your mushrooms.  Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add in 1 tbsp of butter and your mushrooms.  Try not to agitate the pan in order for the mushrooms to do some browning.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then remove pan from heat and set aside.  We’ll be adding these to the risotto right near the end.
  2. Over medium-low heat, melt your remaining butter (2 tbsp) with the olive oil in a large pot.  Then add in your garlic and your onions and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, until onions are soft.  The key is to begin the cooking of the onions, but we don’t want to brown them.  While the onions are cooking, bring your broth to a simmer on a separate burner so that your liquid will be hot when you gradually add it to your rice.
  3. To the pot with the onions, turn up the heat to medium and add in your rice.  Stir everything together and let the rice cook until it becomes transparent – first it will turn milky white, but will eventually turn clear.  Be patient!  Once the rice goes clear, add in your wine and turn heat to low (maybe a 3 setting); let the wine simmer until most of the liquid has boiled off.
  4. Now comes the tedious part, I’m afraid. In ½ - 1 cup amounts, add your broth to the rice and stir frequently until the liquid has been absorbed into the rice.  Then add your second ladleful of broth and repeat… The goal here is to cook the rice at a low enough temperature that the broth slowly cooks the rice as it is absorbed – if you cook the rice on too high a temperature your risotto will come out crunchy, which is unpleasant. [Note: if your risotto does seem a tad too al dente, you can turn down your heat and simply keep adding in more broth until it does cook through… this won’t give you the best possible risotto, but it will salvage it!]
  5. After you’ve added in about 2/3 of your broth (probably have been cooking the risotto for 20 – 25 minutes), do a small taste to see how it’s coming along. It should be looking fairly creamy, but not gluey! If it seems like it’s cooking too fast, reduce the heat and consider putting more broth on to warm.
  6. At this point, you can heat a second pan over medium-high and add in the butter for the fish. Season your halibut on both sides with salt, pepper, and a dusting of cayenne pepper, and then place in the pan.  Depending on the thickness of your filets, you’ll probably want to cook them for 3 – 5 minutes per side. When you flip your fish, sprinkle it with half your thyme, and put the remaining thyme in the pan so it can flavor the butter.
  7. Finish up the risotto.  When you add your last bit of broth, also add in your mushrooms and peas and the lemon zest. Stir through, but don’t let all of the broth absorb this time, since the risotto will continue to firm up as it cools/sits.  You want it slightly looser than you think you want the final product. Add in some salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Squeeze lemon juice over your fish, and spoon any remaining butter in the pan over the fish.
  9. Dish out your risotto, then top with your fish.  Garnish with arugula and serve!

I won’t lie – risotto can be a tricky beast.  I definitely suffered from the “cooking too quickly” issue this time, and had to add in a ton more broth, but that just goes to show that even if it’s finicky it can be redeemed even if things start heading south.  I think if anything, err on the side of cooking too slow rather than cooking too fast, however! Really loved the flavors in this dish – the risotto was nicely balanced with the garlic and the lemon, and it paired really nicely with the fish.  I also really liked tossing some arugula into the dish because I think its bitterness helps cut the creaminess of the risotto, but you can leave it out if you hate the stuff.  We aren’t huge fish eaters around here, but fish actually goes rather nicely with risotto as it’s quite light, which is a good counter to the heaviness of risotto. The only thing that disappointed me was the quality of the fish we purchased.  We went all out and splurged at Whole Foods on some halibut steaks, but these wound up being rather fatty (even though they were wild-caught) AND there were quite a few little (and large) bones in the fish, which is one of my biggest grievances when it comes to fish.  Who likes to worry about choking with each mouthful?  Not me!  I think that whenever you’re buying fish filets the assumption should be that they’re deboned thoroughly, and I was disappointed to find these were not.  Next time I’ll either turn to Trader Joe’s or Publix as I did not feel I got good value at Whole Foods for my money. This is a great weekend meal and one you could readily serve guests, provided you start cooking in advance! I think it’s a bit time-consuming for during the week, though I wouldn’t say it’s really all that difficult. I’m not sure that it had the flare of Trisha’s birthday dish, but I think it was a solid home meal and is one that I’ll certainly be making again!


  1. 05/20/2010

    I want to try this – I love risotto – I could have a different kind every night! Re Whole Foods and fish, I haven’t had much luck there either. If you have a Costco by you, they almost never disappoint.

  2. 05/20/2010

    Ahh! This looks so good, but my husband hates peas with a passion, so I would have to substitute another veggie…maybe asparagus, which he loves. I also just got some really bad fish at the market the other day. It was salmon, but it had a really strong fishy taste, which is weird for salmon, and it was really, really dry after it was cooked. I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with it, but it was horrible. I am going to have to be much pickier about the fish I bring home. I did try to cook risotto with porcini mushrooms once, but it came out way to brothy and wet. I am going to have to try again, because when it’s done right, it’s delicious! Great recipe, Steph, you’ve given me a few ideas!

  3. 05/20/2010

    Your presentation is beautiful!

  4. 05/21/2010

    Ah! Loooove halibut!

  5. 05/21/2010

    @ Jill: In a way I’m glad to hear you’ve also had poor luck with Whole Foods! My mother suggested we try Sam’s Club the next time we’re there, which I feel is seconded by your Costco recommendation.
    @ zibilee: I can’t imagine someone hating peas, but to each his own! 😉 I’ve found with risotto I just add the “mix ins” at the end so as not to mess with the cooking of the rice, but I’m not sure if that’s a standard approach or not.
    @ charley: Thanks! Normally Tony is the food stylist, but this time I was able to do a decent job!
    @ claire: I’m slowly getting into the swing of eating fish and I do really like halibut (especially when it’s used for fish and chips! 😉 ).

  6. i love risotto…but can i skip the fish? i don’t eat anything from the water. i’m such a neophobe.

    my mom and sister can make some mean risotto, but i am a bit challenged in the culinary department. glad i can swing by here and live vicariously through you and t.

    ps. does halibut taste like chicken? lol.

  7. 05/26/2010

    @ nat: You can skip the fish! Try chicken instead!
    I still need to brush up on my risotto skills – I figure the more I make it, the better I’ll get at it!

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