I recoil at the repentant food chatter that crops up this time of year, dominated by words such as “cleanse” and “detox,” which, from what I can tell, are just modern code for “extreme diet.” But part of cultivating a healthy, balanced life is recognizing when you have been pushing the edges in one direction and then responding by shifting gracefully the other way.
After these few weeks of heavier holiday eating it feels good to switch gears, and this dish of fish in a fragrant miso broth with shiitake mushrooms and fresh spinach is a welcome step in the right direction. It’s light and nourishing but also supremely comforting and desirable, crushing the contrived notion that pleasure must now be put on hold in the name of health. It’s also incredibly quick and simple to make, all done in one skillet.
You start by sauteing the mushrooms to brown them a bit and concentrate their flavor. Then aromatics hit the pan — garlic, ginger and scallion — and water and miso paste are added to instantly create a deeply flavorful, savory broth. That broth becomes the poaching liquid for the fish — here, some sumptuously steak-y halibut fillets, but cod would also be delicious. It’s important to keep the liquid to a low simmer so the fish cooks slowly and gently and maintains its tender texture, because it will overcook quickly at a boil. And better to remove it from the broth when it is just shy of cooked through, as residual heat will continue to cook it once it is removed from the pan into serving bowls.
At that point, spinach is added to the skillet where the warmth of the broth takes some rawness out of the leaves yet keeps them fresh and bright. Once the broth with the mushrooms and spinach is poured over and around the fish, dinner is ready. I can’t think of a tastier or more satisfying way to get a fresh start.
Halibut in miso broth
This dish of flaky, white fish served in a savory miso broth with shiitake mushrooms and spinach is light and nourishing, but also supremely comforting and satisfying. And it’s done in one skillet, in less than 30 minutes. Cod or another firm-fleshed white fish may be used instead of the halibut.
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral-tasting oil
2 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, (4 caps total) sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced, dark-green parts reserved for optional garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons peeled, finely minced fresh ginger root
3 cups water
3 tablespoons white or yellow miso paste
4 6-ounce skinned halibut fillets (may substitute cod)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the mushrooms and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the scallion whites, garlic and ginger; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring, until fragrant.
Add 2¾ cups of the water to the skillet and bring to barely a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. While the water is heating, whisk the miso paste with the remaining ¼ cup water in a liquid measuring cup until dissolved, then whisk that mixture into the skillet.
Season the fish with the salt and pepper, then place in the skillet, skinned sides down. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes over low to medium-low heat, maintaining a gentle bubbling, until the fish flakes easily with a fork and is fairly firm.
To serve, place one piece of fish in each wide, shallow bowl. Stir the sauteed mushrooms and the spinach into the liquid in the skillet, then remove from the heat. Pour the broth with spinach and mushrooms around the fish in each bowl. Garnish with the scallion greens, if using.
Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving: 250 calories, 34 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 85 milligrams cholesterol, 600 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams sugar.