Critic-Turned-Cook Makes Vegetarian's First Fish In Decades


[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

I know—and love—quite a few vegetarians. We agree to disagree about that old battle royale about whether it's right or wrong to eat meat. They have yet to slap a "Meat Is Murder" sticker on my bumper and I haven't stuck a "Meat Is Murder... Delicious, Delicious Murder" on theirs. Still, I do occasionally tease my veggie buddies, tempting them with pieces of crisp bacon or slabs of prime steak. Something for which I'm sure PETA would surely burn me at the stake.

This is especially true with my dearest pal, Dan, who's been off the flesh for nearly 30 years. When I traveled to Buenos Aires with Dan and his lovely wife, MP, several years ago, we both urged him to try the magnificent beef. He just laughed and ate his salad.

He and MP have traveled to many places where it's been practically impossible to avoid making like a carnivore: Colombia, China, Poland, Russia. He could write a book about learning the phrases for "Hold the meat" in a dozen languages.

So, imagine my shock when Dan recently told me that he was ready to try eating meat again. A nutritionist suggested it, as a way to up his protein intake. And then imagine my giddy delight when he said yes to my suggestion that I cook his first non-vegetarian meal in three decades. The only proviso was that it had to be lean. No bacon. No huge honking steaks.


[Photographs: Leslie Kelly]

I thought about the menu for days. I studied cookbooks and marinated on what to fix. Then, I went to the farmers market and found my answer.


A big, beautiful halibut.

Once I haggled over the price ("let's make a deal" is my new favorite way to shop at farmers markets), I bought half a fish, herbs for an Italian verde sauce, picked up some Bluebird Grain Farms farro for a tabbouleh-inspired salad, a few juicy slicing tomatoes and a couple of pounds of white peaches for sorbet.

Making this meal was kind of a big deal for me. What if he hated it? What if it made him feel sick? It was a big responsibility and I sweated the details. Fortunately, I've got my halibut cooking technique down: Sear it in a grill pan and finish it in a 275°F oven for 10 minutes (check out my recipe here). By the time the meal was on the table, I was exhausted.


Still, it was a labor of love and Dan appreciated the effort. He also cleaned his plate. I took that opportunity to pitch my services as a private chef. All they have to do is fly me in to the next exotic place they land and I'll cook for them.

Since that first fish, Dan has gone back to the seafood a few more times, but his diet is still mostly plant-based. Just like Michael Pollan recommends.