One of my favorite things is talking to people about ingredients we’re both excited about. Last Spring I met my friend Francois who’s from France and now helps organize the logistics and sourcing of a well known restaurant in Duluth. He’d been following my work for a bit and made it down to the Slow Food Minnesota dinner I did last year at Piney Hill Farm.
We had a couple minutes to chat while I was slicing up rabbit pate, and he regaled me with a few tidbits about the wild food summit held in Northern Minnesota every year he attends. He mentioned one of the people that occasionally makes it up to the summit is Sam Thayer, who besides being a Midwestern foraging celebrity, has started to produce expeller pressed oils from shagbark hickory nuts and white acorns he gathers (I know, awesome, right?!). After Francois mentioned Thayer, I mentioned his oils and that I was in love with the acorn that I’d ordered from him earlier in the year. We talked about how we’d used the oil or had it prepared, one thing we agreed on was that less is more when using it.
It’s a pretty golden-hued oil, and eaten by itself it has a great aroma like most nut oils. The acorn oil is nut-esque, but there’s something different underneath, something special, delicate, nuanced. For the sake of description I’ll say it’s a bit hazelnut-y, but it’s different, lighter in a way. I noticed unlike more aggressive walnut, acorn oil needs partners on the plate that don’t take over everything else. Dishes with a few carefully chosen, mild ingredients ingredients were what worked the best, enhancing the flavor of the acorn oil without drowning it, for example I mentioned I’d been drizzling the oil on a simple pureed spring-dug parsnip soup at the restaurant.
Francois mentioned a traditional dish from where he hails from in France, the Saintogne region, on the western border of France with the Atlantic. Like most traditional recipes, there’s only a couple ingredients: baccala/salt cod, white beans, and walnut oil. We talked a while about how good the acorn oil would be with the fish and beans, and then moved onto the importance of tradition and simplicity in food before I went back to slicing up rabbit pate. I made sure to make a quick note about his salt cod/white bean/walnut oil combo though, and I’m glad I did.
I had a few high profile dinners coming up in the near future, and they were the perfect excuse for playing with the acorn oil which is naturally a little expensive (and worth every penny). Whenever I get inspiration from food, I don’t often copy the original version-I put it through my filter and make it my own but I make sure to keep the original feel of the flavors intact.
For Francois’s dish, the walnut oil changed to acorn, the white beans to a silky puree, and the only extra addition was some of the first young chanterelles of the season, adding texture and color so you don’t feel like you’re eating fish with oil and baby food. I knew I probably wouldn’t use salt cod, so I picked flaky, mild white fish. I had halibut on the menu at the time, but I also made the dish with thinly sliced scallops and it was just as good, with an even more luxurious mouth-feel.
Braised Halibut With Chanterelles, White Bean Puree, and Acorn Oil
- 4 four ounce pieces of halibut or another white flaky fish
- Kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste
- Acorn oil to taste
- 4 ounces 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock fish stock, or water
- 1 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
- 2 cups overcooked white beans plus 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid or chicken stock
- 1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil
- 4 ounces small golden chanterelle mushroooms, cleaned
- Fresh cut chives to garnish, optional
- Warm the beans up with their liquid, then puree in a highspeed blender, adding the oil slowly at the end to help create a velvety smooth puree. If needed, add more bean cooking liquid or water to help create a smooth puree. Afterwords, pass the puree through a fine strainer, reserve and keep warm, preferably in a small saucepot with a lid to prevent the bean's starch from forming a crust on the top. The puree can be made in advance.
- To cook the halibut, bring the stock, butter, wine, and salt to a simmer, in a 2-3 qt sauce pot with high sides, whisking to make sure it doesn't break. Taste the liquid to make sure it is pleasantly salty, adjust as needed, then add the chanterelles and halibut and cook, covered, until the chanterelles are cooked through and the halibut is just done, about 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the halibut. I like to use a cake tester or an unfolded paper clip to tell when fish is done, when I can pierce the fish with no resistance, it's ready to go.
- To plate the dish, warm up the bean puree and whisk to loosen or break up any clumps. In the middle of pre-heated dinner bowls, place a 1/4 cup of white bean puree, then a piece of halibut, the chanterelles, finally drizzle with a tbsp of the acorn oil, sprinkle on the chives and serve immediately.