The halibut, an ugly, slimy denizen of the deep, that nevertheless has found love from all corners of Alaska due to being one of the most delicious things to ever come out of the sea. Its rich flavor and high nutrional value has made it a staple food of most areas in the 49th and the fact that it’s always in season means it finds its way onto many a dinner table year round.
In my time cooking for the good folk up here, I’ve gotten very well acquianted with the oddities of this fish, what makes it such a tasty delicacy and how one can get the most flavor out of the meat. Like many Alaskan foods the preparation is pretty simple, but not, however, in the same way most other fish are prepped.
For starters you need to familiarise yourself with the various sections of a halibut and their relative stats for good eating. Fortunately I happen to have a quick and easy diagram for you to use right here.
As we can see, the halibut has three major zones for meat. The steaks, obtained from the rear of the fish, are the basic all purpose cuts and what you’re most likely to find in your local grocers.
Fletches (or fillets) encompass the main body and require the most care for cooking. Since halibut don’t have a lot of fat their meat is fairly fragile and prone to breaking down when soaked in marinades that are too acidic or spicy. This is why I advise using dry rubs or dry marinades for cooking fletches and lots of oil (don’t want them to stick to your cooking implements). The tradeoff is they don’t need a lot of seasoning to be flavorful so getting them just right is fairly easy.
The cheeks are the fish’s literal sweet spot. Small but so bursting with flavor you can just cut them straight off, clean ’em, fry ’em and eat ’em. Sadly as with all good things, they’re also the most expensive part to find at the stores. Depending on where the halibut was caught its cheeks can sell for up to triple digits so you’d be better off chartering a boat down to the Gulf and trying your luck catching one…which you should really do anyway if you have the chance. It’s another of those experiences you’ll only ever be able to have in Alaska, and we’ve got some big damn fish up here for the taking.
In the interests of making it easy for my readers, here’s a quick and hearty recipe that’ll work for any cut:
Alaska Halibut Royale
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 pounds halibut meat
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup minced green onions
Paprika to taste
1. Combine the wine and salt and pour over the halibut. Place the fish on a plate and cover with cling film, then put it in the fridge to marinate for around an hour (you can try for longer but an hour is plenty of time for the meat to absorb all the goodness from its marinade).
2. Preheat oven to 400 F
3. Drain the halibut on paper towels and dip it in the breadcrumbs, then place in a greased up baking tray (emphasis on greased, last thing you want are your perfectly done steaks falling apart when you try to transfer them to a plate because part of them grew too attached to the tray to ever be parted from it again).
4. Mix the sour cream, mayo and green onions in a bowl and spread the mixture liberally over the halibut. Sprinkle paprika over it to really zest it up.
5. Bake for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. I usually measure from the thickest part of the meat since if it’s enough to get that part cooked then it’s enough for the rest of the meat. You’ll know the halibut is ready when the meat is snow white in color and flakes off upon being pierced with a fork.