Halibut Cheeks in Butter

Halibut season is here! It’s crazy, stupid expensive. More than a prime rib even. It’s that supply and demand thing. More people want it and there’s less in the ocean. Why there is less and how the fishery is managed is best left for the International Pacific Halibut Commission to explain. 
All I know is that you don’t want to mess up your big splurge. In 2007 Karen Barnaby, the former chef at the Fish House in Vancouver edited a cookbook devoted to halibut and called it – wait for it – Halibut: The Cookbook. In this book are some very complex recipes by then current, but, as food is fashion too, now passé Canadian chefs. 
I prefer simple, which isn’t to say cream or Asian style sauces aren’t good because they are. It’s a meaty, dense fish that can handle big flavours. But my preference is fried in butter with some salt and pepper. The cheeks are tender and less dense though harder to come by as there are only two per fish. They are also cheaper – at least for now.  
Poet, Susan Musgrave, in her 2015 cookbook, A Taste Of Haida Gwaii also fries halibut in butter but adds some wild Haida Gwaii rose petals after the fish is cooked. Pretty and poetic as they are, rose petals chew up like plain lettuce leaves. In other words they don’t; you give it the cow chew and swallow just to get rid of them.
Anyway, don’t skimp on the butter. The best fish I’ve ever had was one of those Canadian wilderness, fresh out of the water experiences. It was caught in a cold northern lake then cooked in my camp kitchen by the helicopter engineer who caught it an hour earlier. He used as much butter as he wanted from my stores. A wide eyed amount, actually. Far more than I recommend here. He gave no thought to our hearts or waistlines. We poured the excess over our mashed potatoes (who doesn’t put butter on their mashed potatoes?). Maybe we had a vegetable. Being the north, being remote, it was probably more white food, the ever-popular Miracle Whip coleslaw (second only to Miracle Whip macaroni salad). Green vegetables would have been considered plate filler that no one cared about. No fat or fibre concerns, such a reckless and carefree time. 

A note about the photograph – I always take my own pictures but I ate everything too fast and then couldn’t find anymore cheeks. So, I thought vintage and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons this 1942 image of the Eagle, a beautiful Alaskan halibut fishing vessel. Though the boat is on her way to the fishing grounds and we can’t see the hard work that is commercial halibut fishing, I know that it is and always will be. Better them to weather the weather. I will pay.


Pan Fried Halibut Cheeks

– Halibut cheeks (each cheek is the cost of a latté)
– Cast iron frying pan
– Butter, about ½ tbsp. per cheek
– Salt & pepper
 —
Heat butter in pan to medium high, until foamy. Sprinkle fish with S&P to taste, start frying. As my Healtheir You Next Year friend pointed out, salt and pepper is sometimes the exact right seasoning. Cook 6-8 minutes (maybe more for the big ones), turning a few times while the butter turns brown*. Pay attention; don’t go off off and do something else. Take out just as you pass the transluscent stage and serve with lemon wedges. As for all that browned butter, you know what to do. If not for potatoes, quickly toss hot tagliatelle into the pan with a bit of chopped flat leaf parsley, a squeeze of lemon, and some more of that salt and pepper. If no cheeks available, use chunks of fillets and increase cooking times. 

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* If you’re worried about fried fish smell in your house, open the door when cooking but halibut isn’t one of those fishy fishes. Not like cod, which is also really good cooked this way but smellier. 

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