Lunchbreak: Halibut with tomatoes and Berry trifle

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Jenn Segal, author of the new cookbook The Once Upon a Chef Cookbook: 100 Tested, Perfected, and Family-Approved Recipes


 Pan-seared Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes & Basil

-serve with garlic & herb roasted baby potatoes

FRESH PACIFIC HALIBUT IS a seasonal splurge. It needs very little to enhance its flavor—in fact, it’s almost a sin to fuss too much with it. I like to prepare it simply: pan-seared until golden and crisp with a quick sauté of sweet, garlicky cherry tomatoes on the side. Depending on how long you cook the tomatoes, they can be firm and fresh or soft and jammy. I usually aim for somewhere right in between, but they’re delicious either way. Serves 4.

Sourcing savvy:

Pacific halibut is a firm, dense, and sweet white fish, available fresh from March into November. Avoid frozen halibut, as it tends to be dry. If you don’t have access to fresh halibut, another mild white fish like haddock, mahi mahi, sea bass, tilapia, or cod may be substituted.


1 pint [320 g] cherry or grape tomatoes, preferably mixed colors, halved

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp red wine vinegar


Freshly ground black pepper

Four 6-oz [170-g] skinless Pacific halibut fillets

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil


Pro tip:

Remember, when browning or searing a piece of meat or fish: Get the pan good and hot. If the food doesn’t sizzle when you place it in the oil, take it out and give the pan another minute or two to heat up. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or the temperature will drop and the food will steam instead of sear. Resist the urge to move or flip the food before it has fully seared. It will release more easily—and, if you move it around too much, it won’t develop that lovely brown color and crust.


  1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, a heaping ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.


  1. Season the halibut all over with ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12‑in [30.5‑cm] nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Place the fish, presentation-side down, in the pan and cook, without touching, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip the fish and lower the heat to medium; continue cooking until the halibut is just firm to the touch and opaque when you pry open a thicker piece with a paring knife, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked halibut to a plate or serving platter.


  1. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, followed by the cherry tomato mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices, a few minutes. Stir in the basil, then taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.


  1. Serve the halibut fillets with the tomatoes spooned over the top and alongside.


 Red, White & Blue Summer Berry Trifle

BERRY TRIFLES MAKE WONDERFUL (and patriotic) summer party desserts. Not only are they gorgeous, they feed a crowd and can be made in advance. The only drawback is that, with all their layers, they can be time-consuming to make from scratch. I save time by using high-quality store-bought ingredients, like crisp Savoiardi biscuits (a.k.a. crisp ladyfingers), cream cheese, and raspberry jam. The result is a dazzling, delicious trifle that can be made in 30 minutes.

Use a deep, clear glass bowl or a footed glass trifle dish so the pretty layers can be seen. And don’t worry if the layers look slightly uneven or if the layers mix a bit—that’s the beauty of a trifle. You can also make the trifle in small glasses as individual parfaits.


Serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 lb [680 g] strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4‑in [6-mm] slices

3/4 lb [340 g] raspberries

3/4 lb [340 g] blueberries

3/4 cup [225 g] seedless raspberry jam, best quality

1 1/2 cups [360 ml] cold heavy whipping cream

16 oz [455 g] cream cheese, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups [200 g] confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

One 7-oz [200-g] package crisp ladyfingers (also called Savoiardi biscuits)

Fresh mint, for garnish (optional)


  1. Set aside a few of each berry for topping your finished trifle.
  2. In a large bowl, heat the raspberry jam in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until hot and liquidy. Add the fresh berries and toss to coat. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the recipe, stirring occasionally.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or beaters), whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  4. In another large bowl, use an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters) to beat the cream cheese with the confectioners’ sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, then beat in a third of the whipped cream. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the rest of the whipped cream until well combined (see Pro Tip).
  5. Use a 9‑in [23‑cm] round trifle dish or glass bowl with a 14-cup [3.3-L] capacity. Line the bottom of the dish with a layer of ladyfingers, breaking into pieces as necessary. Follow with one-third of the berry-jam mixture (including one-third of the juices), then one-third of the cream cheese mixture. Add another layer of ladyfingers, berries, and cream, and then a third, ending with the cream; for the last layer of cream, leave a 1‑in [2.5‑cm] border around the edge showing the fruit beneath. Garnish with the reserved whole berries and mint (if using). Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight before serving.


Heads up:

Be sure to plan ahead, as the trifle needs to sit in the fridge at least 8 hours before serving.

 Sourcing savvy:

Savoiardi biscuits are crisp ladyfingers, usually sold in the packaged cookie section of the supermarket. Don’t confuse them with the soft sponge cakelike ladyfingers from the bakery—those aren’t nearly as good.

 Pro tip:

Folding is a technique used to mix a light and airy ingredient, like whipped cream, into a heavier mixture, like sweetened cream cheese, without deflating the lighter mixture. To fold, place the heavier mixture in a bowl and top with the lighter mixture. Use a spatula to cut through the middle of the two mixtures down to the bottom of the bowl. Pull the spatula toward you, scooping up some of the heavier mixture. In one sweeping motion, fold the scooped up portion of the heavier mixture over the lighter mixture. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the motions, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the ingredients are well combined.


 Springtime Sautéed Asparagus & Peas

THERE’S A USEFUL ADAGE: what grows together goes together. In other words, if fruits and vegetables grow in the same season and region, they’ll taste great together. Think tomatoes and basil, strawberries and rhubarb, bananas and coconut, and—in this case—peas and asparagus. Plus, I always think combining vegetables in a side dish dresses them up and makes them so much more interesting. Buttered peas, for instance, are a little boring served on their own, other than perhaps to children. But the addition of asparagus, cut into pretty bite-sized lengths, transforms them into a company-worthy dish.

Serves 4


2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1⁄4 cup [40 g] minced shallots

1 bunch thin asparagus spears, ends trimmed and cut into 11/2‑in [4‑cm] pieces on a diagonal

1⁄4 tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup [120 g] frozen peas, thawed

1 tsp honey


  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add the asparagus, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so the shallots don’t burn, for about 5 minutes, or until tender-crisp.
  3. Add the peas and honey and cook for about 1 minute more, until the peas are warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Pro tip:

When you bend an asparagus spear, it snaps at exactly the spot where the tough stalk meets the tender spear. Test one spear to see where it breaks; then, keeping the rest of the bundle together with the rubber band, cut the ends off all at once at the same spot with a sharp knife. This saves you from having to chop each one individually.

Reprinted from Once Upon a Chef by Jennifer Segal with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018

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