Halibut, a member of the flatfish species of fish, is a versatile seafood that can be prepared in many different ways. The halibut, a member of the righteye flounders family (because – indeed – both their eyes are on the right side of their head), can be found in the cold waters of both the Northern Atlantic and Northern Pacific. The largest concentration of Pacific halibut is in the Gulf of Alaska while Atlantic halibut (which looks and tastes slightly different) can be found as far south as Virginia and all the way north to the waters of Norway.
Halibut is the largest of all flatfish. Some Atlantic halibut in particular have measured up to 600 pounds and can be a whopping 8 feet in length. Halibut this large are sometimes known in the fishing industry as “barn doors” or “whales”. Smaller halibut, known as “chickens”, average less than 20 pounds and is the best halibut available as well as the most expensive.
How does it Taste?
Halibut is one of the mildest and most pleasant-tasting fish on the market. It’s white and flaky, contains little oil, and never has an overpowering taste or smell (unless it’s going bad). It can be used in just about any recipe that calls for a mild white fish and can be substituted for other types such as tilapia or flounder.
How to Cook Halibut
Depending on where you live, you may cook your halibut differently than others. Nonetheless, halibut is one of the most versatile types of fish available and can prepared in several ways and used in many innovative recipes.
- Grilling – In warm weather locations or during the comfortable summer months, many amateur chefs turn to their outdoor grills to prepare their halibut. It’s best to start with a specially-designed fish basket or other grill basket when grilling halibut fillets. Because this fish is very low in oil, it tends to stick to surfaces, so even with a basket, it’s necessary to keep it oiled. If you wish to enhance the flavor (though it’s certainly not necessary!), choose a dry rub or a very mild marinade that won’t overpower the fish. Because halibut is generally thin – an inch or less in thickness – it shouldn’t take more than 6-10 minutes to grill it over medium heat. Watch it carefully as halibut can dry out quickly.
- Baking – Like grilling, baking can also dry out your halibut. If you’re cooking it in the oven, choose a temperature setting of 325 – 350 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes for a 1 inch thick piece. Brush it with butter or a mild marinade before cooking.
- Broiling – Again, dryness is an issue with broiling but it can certainly produce a good end result if you watch the halibut carefully. Broil the fish about 3-4 inches from the element and brush often with butter, oil, or marinade. A one inch thick piece should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes to cook through and the result is a nice crispy outer layer. You can also take small halibut pieces, about an inch in size, wrap them in bacon and broil them to make a delicious appetizer.
- Pan Frying – Not unlike fried chicken, halibut tastes good when it’s breaded and fried, though this cooking method isn’t quite as healthy as others. It’s best to cut the filet into smaller serving-size pieces before you begin. Heat a frying pan containing oil, butter, or solid shortening. Dip the pieces in egg or milk and coat with flour. Fry a few minutes of each side until crispy and golden brown. Drain excess oil before eating.
- Deep Frying – Chunks or strips of halibut can be deep fried in a pan or a specially designed “fryer”. Dip all pieces in your favorite batter (try a tasty beer batter if you don’t have a favorite yet) and deep fry them a few at a time in hot oil. (Trying to fry all the pieces at once brings down the temperature of the oil and results in poor frying and soggy halibut.) Cook until the chunks are deep brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels before eating and consider serving the halibut with dipping sauces like honey mustard, sweet and sour, or BBQ sauce.