Hard-nosed Negotiator Cooks Halibut with Asparagus over Lentils and Peas

Merchant's Market (1 of 6)“Who’s the ‘hard-nosed negotiator’?” I can hear you think.

“Who is the guy who will squeeze blood out of a turnip?”

“Who will walk away from something he loves, if the price is not right?”

“It’s me.” I try to say that in a tough, sleeves rolled up, cigar at the corner of my mouth kind of way. I want you to have the right picture. I’m no sap. I don’t walk into negotiations and accept the opening bid. Every price can and should be negotiated. Screw the bastards before they screw you! That’s how to play the game.

Well, that should be how to play. Though, I can have difficulty getting the other side to understand the rules. Let me back-fill for a bit. I love to get my hands on suitable plates, bowls and cutlery to use here on the blog. I also get great pleasure out of finding a suitable prop or two. I have my happy hunting grounds. These include the Blackrock Market, not far from my home and also the Merchant’s Market on Dublin’s East Wall Road. I like to sneak out of the house on a weekend morning and spend some time in the market poking through drawers and tins in search of the right knife, plate or spoon. I do this on my own as no sane person could put up with my antics.

As the saying goes, all human life is here in the Merchants Market.

As the saying goes, all human life is here in the Merchants Market.

The stall holders have got over their suspicion of me. You too would be suspicious of a guy wanting to buy one of a set of twelve dinner plates. One of my favourite stalls is Merchants Upholstery and Fabrics, run by the ever helpful Kevin. I negotiate materials to use as tablecloths. Kevin always gives great advice and a generous meter measurement. He insists on €3 per metre. How the hell do you negotiate that? Kevin is not helping my hard-nosed rep.

Kevin surrounded by rolls and bolts of materials. A hard man with whom to get tough.

Kevin surrounded by rolls and bolts of materials. A hard man with whom to get tough.

Having failed to cut any discount with Kevin and being down the princely sum of €3, I make my way to the Yellow Brick Room run by Christy and Margaret. Their easy style lulls me into a false sense of wellbeing. I part with another un-negotiated €2.50 for two plates. I then tell Christy that I would like a picture. He agrees and I take the shot below.

Christy standing proudly (and rightly so) in the Alladin's Cave that is the Yellow Brick Room.

Christy standing proudly (and rightly so) in the Aladdin’s Cave that is the Yellow Brick Room.

We fall into conversation about antique pottery and different manufacturers. He shows me a bowl, marked at an outlandish €4 and explains all about the Arklow Pottery and the Indian Tree pattern. I get ready to fight my corner. I think I’ll get him down to €2! “What would you be looking at for the bowl?” I ask in as disinterested a tone as I can muster. He destroys my negotiating position by saying “Not at all, it’s a present. I love to see somebody so interested in what we do.” I slink away, bowl in hand, unable to feel good about my hard-nosed self.

I head for home and start to prepare the evening meal.

A really simple ingredients shot. Missing half the ingredients, of course.

A really simple ingredients shot. Missing half the ingredients, of course.

My Halibut with Asparagus over Lentils and Peas recipe is almost all there in the title. The full list for four people is as follows:

  • 2 big thick pieces of fresh halibut
  • 3 cans of Lentils
  • About 150 grammes of fresh or frozen peas
  • 400 ml of good chicken stock
  • 2 bunches of fresh asparagus
  • A teaspoon of tomato purée
  • A splash of soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper both to flavour and to season the flour
  • Half a tablespoon of flour

Drain and rinse the lentils. Put them in a saucepan along with the peas, chicken stock, tomato purée, soy sauce and some salt and pepper.

Not a lot of cooking involved in this dish. Warm it on the stove.

Not a lot of cooking involved in this dish. Warm it on the stove.

Skin the fish and slice it into single serving size portions.

We haven't had a good gratuitous fish skinning shot in ages...

We haven’t had a good gratuitous fish skinning shot in ages…

Steam the asparagus. Dust the fish in seasoned flour.

White fish in white flour on a white plate. I'm surprised I managed to photograph anything.

White fish in white flour on a white plate. I’m surprised I managed to photograph anything.

Fry the fish over medium heat in a mix of oil and butter. Don’t over-cook it.

Lovely halibut fillets bubbling in oil and butter. Delicious.

Lovely halibut fillets bubbling in oil and butter. Delicious.

Dry the fish on kitchen paper (or newspaper, if you failed to negotiate a decent price in the supermarket). Spoon a generous amount of the lentil mixture into an antique Arklow Pottery Indian Tree bowl, if you are lucky enough to own one. Place the halibut on top and arrange the asparagus to best effect. Photograph it and serve.

Beautiful bowl, generously gifted to me. So much for hard-nosed.

Beautiful bowl, generously gifted to me. So much for hard-nosed.

Look out for the various patterned tablecloths elsewhere on the blog and think of Kevin. Each time you see this bowl, you will know that I have had Christy’s generosity in mind. Natural, human kindness seems to have defeated the cigar chomping, tough talking negotiator. Thanks be to goodness.

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Latest comments
  • Love his generous gift in juxtaposition (ohh, don’t get to use that word often) to your feigned nonchalance. I don’t know how many times I have asked that question ‘how much?’ at op shops and markets, trying to hide my deep seated fear that they will ask more than I will pay. Fish, lentils and asparagus, delicious.

    • Thanks. It does prove that there are good people out there. Certainly better people than me.

  • I’m glad that kindness and generosity fill your life. It seems to be what you do with us as well when you share one of your recipes and this sounds like a good one.

    • Thanks Karen. It’s very simple and very tasty. The asparagus helped too!

  • I’d go with you on your plate crawl! I spend far too much time faffing about on eBay and at the local auction rooms doing much the same thing. The halibut (mmm, halibut) looks delicious and I really like the idea of serving it with asparagus. Another entertaining post, thanks.

    • Ha! eBay. A new source of endless hours searching, negotiating and then deciding to not buy…
      Thanks Linda.

  • Such a good looking dish! That is the food and the plate! Now you have me thinking of props the next time I create a post on a recipe…Interesting combo too with the lentils, tomato puree, peas and soy!

    BTW, I hate that when I get my corn cob pipe out, tuck my hands way down into the front pockets of my overalls, market bag hanging from the shoulder, find an item, look over the top of my glasses, one eyebrow raised, to make the tough offer for an item, and the seller tells me 50 cents please! Takes a bit of regrouping when I hit the next stop! 🙂

    Be well – ^..^ B

  • I like your style. And this looks like a delicious dinner!

    • Thanks. It was a fun post to research and write. They are great people down there in the Merchant’s Market.

  • I love a bargain! Even better, I love a rare and treasured find. It’s been ages since I went bargain hunting and I am yet to try Halibut as it’s not something which we come across (so readily) here down under.

    Nonetheless, I still love peas and fresh greens. With a beautifully pan fried piece of fish, it’s the ultimate spring dinner. And yes, that bowl is still a find Kevin!

    • Alice, You will be doing well to get halibut as a bargain. The rest should be very inexpensive.

  • Ha! Oh, the tyrrany of props! I know exactly what you mean about buying only one or two plates out of a 10 serving set. How they love you for that. Evidently that cutlery was quite popular at one time – I have the identical knife and fork (but ONLY that one knife and fork). Very funny–and nice looking halibut! Ken

    • Thanks for the kind words Ken,
      I have three similar knives (all different from each other in some small way). Two of the forks (different again and not matching the knives). I do find getting the older knives difficult. I have more spoons and forks than you could shake a stick at. But, knives are a rarity.

      • Same here. Knives are tough, and the blades on what you find often look like crap.

  • I love seeing people stick to their guns, Conor. You stand firm! Don’t let those people bully you into taking a free bowl! That’s how they get you. Next thing you’ll tell us is that you’ve brought them some of your fine cooking. That’s just absurd. 😉

    • Don’t go there Tommy. If they read that, they might want to barter!

  • Lovely dish. It is fun when you get a chance to bargain and come away with a good deal. Though that’s a great price for fabric!

  • Love a good market!!

  • Oh you remind me so much of my husband! He loves to barter on the price. I always sheepishly give what is asked for at sales like that. Silly me. As to the fish… I LOVE halibut in any form.

    • I enjoy it but I really am pretty poor at it.

  • A fantastic looking plate on which to serve this delicious meal. I’ve never had lentils prepared like this, Conor, and it sounds wonderful. I’ve a favorite second-hand shop, the proceeds of which got to a charity. I “rent” dishes from them. Whenever I drop in, I pick out a plate or two, pay them a few dollars, and return the plates from my last visit. No need to worry about my breaking up a set because the plates will be returned. I’m afraid others may have caught on because the selection isn’t at all what it once was. Curses!

    • Now that is the smartest approach. I almost got there with one trader who offered to let me buy some plates for €50 and he promised to buy them back on my next visit for €45. I was carrying too much to take them all and we couldn’t deal.

      The next time I was in, he was not. A complete set of dinner plates avoided, by the looks of things.

  • That Indian Tree bowl set off a huge burst of nostalgia. We had an entire service as our everyday crockery when I was a child: plates, bowls, dishes, side plates, tureens, platter and an tea service. Today, there’s nothing left. But one of my earliest memories is boiled eggs and toast soldiers on an Indian Tree plate…

    • I have a couple of tureens in the press. My mum gave them to me soon after we got married. They haven’t been out of the press in a couple of decades. I reckon they will feature in the background soon.

  • I often wonder what the person who cleans out this place when I’m gone will think about all the single bowls, plates, napkins, forks, knives, etc.! One look at Christy and you can see he drives a hard bargain. And such a fine-looking dinner.

  • Oh wow!!! This looks AMAZING C!

  • Your post made me chuckle. Everything in Hong Kong requires a barter. “I give you good friend price.” Actually, in China, until you see the vendor shed a tear you did not barter hard enough.. This is a great comfort dish and love lentils too. Perfectly done fish. Have a super weekend. BAM

  • This looks so fresh and delicious. Very simple yet flavorful. You are so funny btw.

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