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Ingredient Challenge: Celery Root, Pixie Tangerine, Veggie Sweet Peppers

Image of Pan Seared Wild Halibut with Celeriac Purée, Sautéed Sweet Pepper Medley and Tangerine-Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce
By Dennis Linden

Here’s a very flavor-filled recipe that demonstrates a delicious way to take advantage of the unique taste of April’s Pixie Tangerine crop to add a unique twist to a classic French reduction sauce. From the kitchen of Chef Ryan Bergunio, executive chef of Bistro 45 in Pasadena, California, comes a four-component entrée -- each treated simply, allowing the natural flavors of the fresh ingredients to shine through. The dish presents four layers of contrasting flavors and texture. Call it comfort food creamy meets crunchy sweet veggies and seared spicy fish; with each component deliciously tainted with the tang of the chef’s inventive citrus Buerre Blanc sauce, kissed by a Pixie even! This was a fun one to prepare--four “mini recipes” in one that do not meet each other until plating. So pour a favorite vintage in a long-stemmed glass and enjoy the process!
Image of Chef Ryan Bergunio
I liked the culinary organization that this recipe required if it is to come out timely and be enjoyable along the way. Mise en place (MEEZ-ahn-plahs) is a French culinary term that means “everything in its place”; that is, to prepare and pre-measure all the ingredients necessary for a dish before one starts cooking. This approach really works well in making this recipe. If everything is ready to go, it is possible to get up to speed quickly. In no time, three burners are going at once with the sauté pan for the fish positioned for the last 7-8 minutes of the procedure. Like I said, great fun!

The sauce reduction has the longest simmering time, so get it started first. Chef Ryan gives a new personality to a very traditional icon in French cooking sauces. The citrus tones of his Buerre Blanc find their way into every bite on this dish, especially if the reader does not follow the meager amount of this zesty sauce shown in the photos in this feature! If the truth be known, photographic considerations made it necessary to skimp on the sauce so that all the other components could be seen clearly in the shots. Have no doubt that, when the photo session was over and it was time to taste the goods, I was not bashful about increasing the ratio of sauce to other components!

This delightful sauce adds to both the pepper mix and the creamy purée in different ways, so that each pleased the palate with a tangy contrast. The sweet-tart citrusy notes also enhanced the subtle flavor of the halibut, and laced it perfectly with just a hint of spicy heat. That slight dusting of cayenne--such a small thing, but it’s the chef’s touch that distinguishes!

While the celery root, reduction sauce and pepper medley will share the stovetop at some point during the prep, each will finish a little staggered from the others -- and not something to worry about. Cooking each component perfectly should be the goal of the home gourmet; perfect timing comes with preparing a dish multiple times. Here is where a pre-warmed oven (170°F) is the home chef’s best timer. Each component will be finished within maybe 3-5 minutes of each other—close enough! Just cover and pop each into the warm oven when done, take a breath, and then sauté the fish on high heat with the singular focus it takes to be cooked perfectly.

Fish two-cents worth: While Chef Ryan calls for wild halibut filet in this recipe, he also suggested that Alaskan or Washington salmon would work just as well. The reader will note that the plating photos in this feature show a Halibut steak, which is another good option. Most importantly, and in keeping with Bistro 45’s policy of being environmentally driven in their ingredients, is Chef Ryan’s specificity that the fish is a “wild” halibut. No matter the cut or species, fish should be as fresh as possible and from a sustainable fishery source. See the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for seafood species that should be avoided as well as chosen based on each fishery’s impact, positively and negatively, on the environment. As consumers we can affect the market with our choices by supporting sustainable agriculture both on land and in the seas.

Chef Ryan’s nifty sweet pepper sauté is quick, easy and one that would make a great stand-alone side dish any number of main courses; the succulent roasted sweetness of the dried tomato played wonderfully off the peppers and added some chewy texture to the mix. Again, just a simple sauté packed with flavors. The same simplicity makes for the buttery, decadently creamy celeriac purée that pervades every forkful. Warning: celery root purée can be addicting.

For the purposes of photography, tasting and, frankly, trying to get this dish just right, I had to prepare this recipe three times. “Had to” gives the wrong impression. The task was not at all tedious and there were new flavors discovered with each preparation. In fact, I must say that the tastes seemed to get deeper and more pronounced with each serving. While I do not expect the reader to do the same, I am sure that, once tasted, some of you will think up your own “good reasons” to try this one again real soon. Like maybe tomorrow. Bravo, Chef Ryan Jefferson Bergunio!

Pan Seared Wild Halibut with Celeriac Purée, Sautéed Sweet Pepper Medley and Tangerine-Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce
Servings 2

Celeriac Purée

Image of Ingredients for Pan Seared Wild Halibut with Celeriac Purée, Sautéed Sweet Pepper Medley and Tangerine-Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce
2 ounces Butter
1 Celeriac (Celery Root), small diced
½ medium Yellow Onion, julienned
½ cup Heavy Cream
Salt & White Pepper, to taste

  1. Melt butter in a medium-sized pan over medium heat.
  2. Add and sweat the celeriac and onion, until tender.
  3. Add the heavy cream, turn heat down slightly, simmer for 5 more minutes.
  4. Purée this, using a blender, until creamy smooth.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Transfer to a ceramic bowl, cover and keep warm in an oven set very low until ready to plate.
Sweet Pepper Medley

Image of Ingredients for Sweet Pepper Medley
1 Teaspoon Unsalted Butter
½ Shallot, peeled and sliced cross-wise
1 sprig Lemon Thyme Leaves, separated (sub regular Thyme if necessary)
1 clove Garlic, thinly sliced
1 Red Veggie Sweet Mini Pepper, julienned
1 Orange Veggie Sweet Mini Pepper, julienned
1 Yellow Veggie Sweet Mini Pepper, julienned
2 ounces Sun-Dried Tomato halves, julienned
1 small handful Baby Spinach, torn
A touch of Meyer Lemon juice, 6-8 drops, to taste
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Image of salad ingredients on a bowl
  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized sauté pan, then slowly sweat the shallots and lemon thyme over medium low heat until the shallots are lightly caramelized.
  2. Add the garlic and cook until tender.
  3. Add the sweet peppers and sun-dried tomatoes, adjust the heat to medium high, sauté until cooked al dente or just right.
  4. Remove the pan from heat, mix in the spinach and cover to wilt the leaves.
  5. Mix again, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Now drizzle in a touch of Meyer lemon juice, 6-8 drops to taste.
  7. Cover and keep warm with the purée until ready to plate.
Citrus Beurre Blanc and Tangerine

1 ounce Butter
½ Shallot, sliced
2 sprigs Lemon Thyme Leaves, separated
½ cup Chardonnay Wine
1 Pixie Tangerine, zested
1 Pixie Tangerine, juiced
1 Meyer Lemon, juiced
1 Lime, juiced
2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
5 ounces Unsalted Butter, cubed and very cold
Salt and Cayenne Pepper, to taste

Image of melted butter
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over low-medium heat.
  2. Sweat the shallots and lemon thyme until tender.
  3. Add in the chardonnay and reduce to au sec (almost dry).
  4. Add the tangerine zest and juice, Meyer lemon juice, lime juice, then reduce to au sec.
  5. Add the heavy cream, and simmer this for about a minute.
  6. Remove pan from heat, slowly swirl in the butter until melted into a sauce consistency.
  7. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer for a smooth consistency.
  8. Cover and keep warm with the other components until ready to plate.
Pan Seared Halibut
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 (5 ounces) Halibut Fillets or steaks, preferably with skin on
Salt and Black Pepper, to taste
A sprinkle or two of Cayenne Pepper, to taste

Image of Halibut fillet
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over low-medium heat.
  2. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium to medium high heat until it just begins to smoke.
  3. Sear the halibut, skin side down, for a minute.
  4. Lower flame to medium-low and cook until the skin is rich golden brown.
  5. Flip the fillet, remove from heat, let stand in pan for another 3 minutes.
  6. If skinless steak, 4 minutes side #1, two minutes side#2, let stand another minute or two off heat.
To Plate
Image of Pan Seared Wild Halibut with Celeriac Purée, Sautéed Sweet Pepper Medley and Tangerine-Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce
  1. Place the celeriac purée in the center of the plate.
  2. Top with the sautéed vegetables.
  3. Top that with the seared fillet of halibut.
  4. Drizzle the sauce on the fish and droplets garnishing the side of the plate.
  5. Top with dressed chervil (toss chervil with a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper).
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