Halibut, like all fish, is a high-quality source of protein and selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps your body repair damaged cells and aids in decreasing inflammation. It is especially good because it also includes omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and magnesium, helping to fight heart disease.
Halibut is the largest flatfish in the ocean, and lives on the seabeds of the North Pacific, North Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. It can grow up to more than ten feet long. Members of the flatfish family are flattened laterally, and swim sideways, with one side facing down and the other facing up. The upper side is typically gray to brown, or nearly black, with mottling and numerous spots to blend in with a sandy or muddy bottom. The underside is typically white. Virtually all halibut are right-eyed, meaning both eyes are found on the upper, dark side of the body. The mouth extends to the middle of the lower eye or beyond, and is nearly symmetrical. The scales are quite small and buried in the skin, making the skin appear smooth.
All flounder species also belong to the flatfish family.
Fish these days are either farm-raised or caught in the wild and flash-frozen while still on the boat.
Atlantic halibut, once considered a superior fish because of its higher fat content has almost disappeared from the market as there are severe restrictions on its fishing. As per the Greater Atlantic Fisheries Office (GARFO) for New England and the Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic halibut was only allowed as a bycatch, with limits imposed on the number and size of the ones that can be kept per fishing expedition. If Atlantic halibut were to be considered endangered under the American Endangered Species Act, then fishing would be completely prohibited.
With Atlantic halibut virtually unavailable the Pacific halibut has seen higher demand, sending its prices way up. Fortunately for now, Pacific halibut is likely to be available in the market.
Currently the Atlantic halibut is ‘in a rebuilding plan’ with a target date of 2055 for the stock to be completely rebuilt. Both Atlantic and Pacific halibut are huge fish, weighing up to hundreds of pounds. They also each have very long lives, living up to 50 years (Atlantic) or more (Pacific). On average, the fish take about 10 years to reach reproducing age, so any fish caught before it’s at least that old means the end of future population contribution from that fish. This slow timeline calls for the long term rebuilding plan.
With so many factors affecting its supply and availability, surely the prices will go up. New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, for example, sells the Atlantic variety for more than $45 per pound1
A lean fish, halibut has a mild, sweet tasting white flesh. It’s thicker and firmer than cod. Because the flavor is so gentle, halibut pairs well with bolder seasonings like pesto, lemon juice and basil.
Halibut can be cooked in many ways, including baking, broiling, grilling, sautéing, poaching or steaming. Here we are making a delicious Bullinada, a creamy Catalonian seafood stew infused with saffron. (You can also prepare a great Bullinada with any other firm white fleshed fish like striped sea bass, flounder, haddock, or cod.)
As halibut is a lean meat fish, it is especially suited for soups, as there is no fear of the fish drying out.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 8 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 8 cups fish or vegetable stock
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1¾ pounds new potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 1¾ pounds skinless fish fillets, such as hake or monkfish
- ¾ cup prepared mayonnaise
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, plus more for serving
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Cilantro leaves for garnish
- In a largish pot, heat oil over medium. Add onions, and cook until they begin to soften.
- Add half the minced garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly golden.
- Add the saffron, stock and wine.
- Add potatoes, fennel seeds, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
- Season fish with salt and pepper and add to the stock.
- Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until fish is opaque and flaky, 4 to 6 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, remaining garlic and Aleppo pepper.
- Slowly stir in a ladle of hot stock into mayonnaise mixture. Gently stir mayonnaise mixture into the simmering soup.
- Heat through, without reaching a boil as the mayonnaise will curdle when boiled.
- Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.