Halibut is a large flatfish usually found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. It is also now farmed, which is a much more sustainable option as the wild fish currently has endangered status. Halibut can range in size from 1 kilo right up to 70 kilos! 3-5 kilo fish are the best to eat, any larger than this and the flesh can be very tough and dry out easily.
As with all fish it is important to choose the freshest and highest quality before buying. Halibut should be firm to the touch and free of an unpleasant fishy odour. The eyes should be clear, the fins should be intact and the gills should be bright red.
When choosing fillets of halibut, it is harder to tell how fresh the fish is – look for flesh with no discolouration.
Halibut has a reputation for drying-out quickly if it’s cooked for too long, so most traditional methods require the fish to be briefly fried, grilled or roasted. If you want to embrace a slower method then turn to techniques like smoking or curing. Try pre-smoked halibut for recipes like Frances Aitkens’ Picnic on a Plate.
Halibut can also be cooked in the acidity of fruit juice or vinegar. For inspiration, see William Drabble’s recipe for Alaska halibut marinated in lemon vinegar with asparagus and chervil salad or Dave Watts’ Alaska halibut ceviche with shellfish and spring onion dressing, which marinade slivers of the fish for 20-30 minutes.
The most classic way of cooking halibut is pan-frying a fillet and serving it on a bed of greens with a simple sauce. To pan-fry, heat a generous amount of butter in a pan, and when it starts to foam then put the fillets in skin-down cooking until it is crispy. Cook briefly on the other side, but be careful not to over-do. For inspiration see Dominic Chapman’s pan-fried halibut with wild mushrooms and gnocchi or Adam Gray’s pan-fried halibut with smoked bacon and girolles.
When roasted or grilled, halibut steaks or fillets should still be cooked for a short amount of time – see Adam Gray’s recipe for roasted Alaska halibut, which cooks the fish for just 2 minutes in a frying pan and then 4 minutes in the oven at 180°C.
A traditional serve for halibut steaks or fillet is to place it on a bed of greens – beans, broccoli, spinach – and then to drizzle over a butter-lemon sauce, perhaps enhanced with some capers, shallots or anchovies.
Interestingly, autumnal ingredients often accompany halibut to, from ceps and giroelles to lardons, cider and parsnip puree. Perhaps it’s because the depth of flavours work so well alongside the robust but creamy flesh. Another popular flavour is lemon or lime – even passionfruit or mango – which are most commonly used for light, summer recipes which serve the halibut as ceviche.