Pacific halibut, northern halibut, Alaska halibut
Flétan du Pacifique
Size is the most distinguishing characteristic of the Pacific halibut. The largest of all flatfish, halibut can stretch up to 8 feet long and 4 feet across and weigh over 600 pounds. While such sizes are exceptional, it’s easy to see why fishermen refer to these fish as “whales” or “barn doors.” Market sizes run anywhere from 10 to 200 pounds. Pacific halibut are found along the Pacific Coast from northern California to the Bering Sea and westward to Russia and the Sea of Japan. Halibut are taken by longlines, primarily in Alaska and British Columbia. A quota system stretches the fishing season over several months, so fresh halibut is available nearly all year. For the first three months of winter, however, it’s scarce. That’s when you might want to remember the advice an 1866 article in Atlantic Monthly offered single women planning meals: “Don’t buy quails, for they are all gizzard and feather; and don’t buy halibut until you have inquired of the price.”
Halibut retains its moisture well in frozen state and keeps its texture when cooked. It’s a very mild, sweet-tasting, lean fish with fine-grained, dense meat that dries out if overcooked.Uncooked, the white flesh of halibut should be almost translucent, not dull, yellowish or dried out. When cooked, the snow-white meat loses its glossy appearance and is flaky and tender though still firm. It holds together well, and bones are easily spotted. Meat from larger fish may have a slightly coarser texture.
Halibut is an extremely versatile fish, and the thick, meaty flesh holds up well to a number of cooking methods and sauces. It’s ideal for skewering as kebabs. A Canadian recipe calls for baking halibut with sour cream. Place fish in a greased, shallow baking dish. Season with salt, pepper and tarragon; dot with butter and sprinkle with chopped shallots. Cover with sour cream and bake at 375°F until fish flakes when tested with a fork. Before serving, garnish with parsley or chives or sprinkle with paprika.
Grouper, Snapper, Large cod