My mum always told me there are many fish in the sea. What she didn’t mention was that some are significantly better than others. Of course, it didn’t take me long to figure out it’s usually what’s inside that counts. Take Alaskan halibut: It’s not exactly a looker, but this meaty, elegant fish’s snow-white flesh is firm, sweet, and versatile enough to fit in anywhere from a backyard barbecue to a top-notch restaurant.
March kicks off the season for wild Alaskan halibut, and chefs coast to coast rejoice when these enormous, majestic fish start showing up at the fish market.
Part of the flatfish family, which includes flounder, sole, and turbot, halibut is one of the largest saltwater fish. The bottom feeder can grow up to eight feet long and tip the scale at as much as 600 pounds. Halibut that cross the 100-pound mark—affectionately called whales, soakers, or barn doors—are the pride of sport fishermen. You, on the other hand, will want to go for smaller, younger fish. Nutritionally heavy hitters, halibut are naturally low in fat, the tender white fish is rich in protein, selenium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Here's how to buy it—and cook it.
1. See it. As with all seafood, freshness really matters. Look for sparkling, white flesh without soft spots or red, yellow, or brown discoloration.
2. Smell it. Fresh halibut should smell like seawater. If you get wind of anything fishy or hinting at ammonia, don’t buy it.
3. Store it. If your fridge’s current setting allows butter to stay relatively soft, it’s too warm for your fish. Fill a baking dish with ice, place wrapped fish in a plastic bag, and lay it on top. Store the dish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, where it’s coolest. Fish caught the same day you bought it will keep for two or three days. The easiest way to make sure your halibut stays fresh: Use it the day of purchase.
4. Cook it. If halibut were in high school, it would be voted Most Likely to Succeed. There’s so much you can do with it, and it’s such a simple fish to prepare. Serve it roasted, poached in olive oil, or steamed in a pillow of parchment paper, or, if you’re splurging, deep-fried in a buttermilk batter. The skin is pretty tough, so remove it before or after cooking. Also, halibut cheeks are a delicacy and can be used like scallops.
Did you know? The average amount of seafood that Americans eat per week, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is 3.5 ounces. That’s less than half of the eight ounces that the USDA recommends consuming per week to prevent heart disease.