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 popular Canadian chefs (alas, food is fashion too).
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 kale. In other words they don’t. Give them to a cow who likes a good chew.
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. The fish was caught in a cold arctic lake then cooked in my camp kitchen by the helicopter engineer who caught it within the hour. 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, probably not. Green vegetables would have been considered plate filler that no one cared about. Also expensive. No fat or fibre concerns. Such a reckless and carefree time.
Pan Fried Halibut Cheeks
– Halibut cheeks (each cheek is about the cost of a latté)
– Butter, about 1 tbsp. per cheek
Heat butter in pan to medium high, until foamy. Sprinkle fish with S&P to taste, start frying. As my good friend at You Next Year 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 like I might. This only takes a total of 5-7 minutes. Take out just as you pass the translucent stage and serve with lemon wedges.
As for all that browned butter, you know what to do. If not you’re not putting on potatoes, quickly toss hot, cooked tagliatelle into the pan with a bit of chopped flat leaf parsley, a squeeze of lemon, and some more of that salt and pepper to taste. It’s okay to add a green vegetable to the meal; I recommend it.
If no cheeks are available, use fillets and slightly increase cooking times.
* 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.
A note about the photograph: I usually take my own pictures but I ate everything too fast and then couldn’t find anymore cheeks. So, I downloaded this from Wikimedia Commons. It’s a 1942 image of the Eagle, a beautiful Alaskan halibut fishing vessel.