March 25 is an important day in Greece, a double holiday with national and religious significance. Orthodox Christians celebrate the Annunciation of the Theotokos, the day that the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to bear a child. Christ's birth followed nine months later, on December 25. It was on Annunciation day, in the year 1821, that a prominent bishop of the Peloponnese named Germanos, proclaimed the beginning of the struggle for Greek independence. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Greece had been under the occupation of the Ottoman empire. A revolution began in 1821 and in 1832 Greece was finally recognized as an independent nation.
Bishop Germanos, center, detail from the painting "Epanastasis" (Revolution), circa 1849.
So March 25 is and has been for Greeks a day of parades and great national feeling, and also a day of religious devotion and fasting. In Greece, religion and tradition pretty much regulate what will be placed for dinner on the table. On March 25, most Greeks will eat some type of seafood accompanied by skordalia, a garlicky potato dish. (You can find my recipe for skordalia here). Today at my house, halibut is on the menu. All of us love its firm texture and its delicately sweet flavor. In cooking halibut, I've learned not to let it dry out. This is important as the fish contains little oil of its own, and can easily become tough if overcooked.
My favorite way of preparing it is to quickly pan sear it. One can play with a lot of sauces and spices while pan searing, but for today's holiday, considering that we fast, we'll cook it plain. Then we'll serve it with a bit of skordalia and a nice tomato salad.
- 4 halibut fillets, about 6 ounces each
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon juice to taste
- Flour for dusting the fish
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons butter
- Sprinkle the halibut with some lemon juice and season it with salt and pepper. Dust both sides with flour, then shake off the excess flour.
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan large enough to hold all four fillets. When the oil starts to smoke faintly, add the halibut. Let it cook on medium high for three to four minutes, until the seared side has turned dark golden brown.
- Turn the fillets over carefully, and lower the heat to medium. Cook for another four minutes or until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 120° F. Check by inserting a cooking thermometer into the thickest part of the fillet.
- Add the butter to the pan and swirl. Don't let it burn. Using a spoon baste the fish with the butter, cooking for another minute.
- Transfer the halibut to a serving platter and let it rest for a couple of minutes before serving.