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Sweet corn and halibut are a match made in heaven. A sprinkle of thyme leaves at the end makes it pretty, but plenty of butter is what really makes this dish come together. Don’t get cheap with the butter. You’re only hurting yourself, and if our current circumstances have taught us anything, it’s that life is uncertain and butter is an essential food group.
You could cook a single big piece of halibut for this recipe, but what I love most about short cuts is speed. Several small pieces cook much faster than one big one, and it’s much easier to tell when they’re cooked through.
Put a large pan of water on to boil and salt well.
Remove the kernels from the ears of corn with a knife. I find that the easiest way to do this is by cutting the ear of corn in half to make two shorter pieces. Rest the flat side of the ear on a cutting board and, starting from the top, shave down the ear with the knife to slice off the kernels. (If there’s no corn in the market, or you really don’t want to do this, you can start with a 16 oz. bag of frozen corn. No need to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.)
Boil the kernels in the salted water for 5 minutes and drain. Add at least 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, cover with a lid to keep it warm, and set aside for several minutes for the butter to soften and melt.
Puree the corn and butter with an immersion blender. (you could use a food processor for this) The consistency will have plenty of texture. That’s the rustic part. Add the chopped basil, the thyme leaves removed from the stem, and a few turns of the grinder of white pepper and stir to combine. Reserve 1 or 2 stems of thyme for a garnish. Adjust the salt to taste. Want it richer and creamier? Add more butter. In the immortal words of Julia Child: “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil and let that heat up. Sprinkle a little salt over the halibut pieces and add them to the pan with their prettiest side facing down. If some of the pieces are thicker than others, give the thick ones a minute or two head start before adding the thinner pieces to the pan.
Turn down the heat to medium-low. It takes a little longer this way, but your kitchen won’t smell like you’ve been cooking fish. As the fish cooks, it will become opaque, and you can see that color change move up the pieces.
Once the color has changed ¾ of the way up, turn the pieces to finish the other side. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and spoon the melted butter on top of the fish as it finishes cooking for another minute or so, then turn the heat off while you get your plates out. The heat of the pan will finish the cooking for you.
To serve, spread a layer of the corn puree on a plate and place several pieces of halibut on top. Spoon a little of the butter from the fish pan on top of the fish. Remove the leaves from the thyme stem you put aside and scatter them on top. You could also arrange this on a platter and serve family style.