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Floored by halibut

Wed., April 11, 2012

Found deep in the ocean, mild, sturdy fish is a favorite during spring

Spring weather has been hard to come by this year, but at least there’s halibut.

The return of the season for these ocean-floor-dwelling fish has long heralded spring and its arrival is still anticipated by many. It’s a mild, sturdy fish that holds up well for grilling or baking.

“There are some people who don’t know that halibut goes out of season and so there is a four-month period when all you can get is … defrosted halibut,” said Heather Lanzone, owner of Regal Street Seafood. “That first day I put it on our Facebook page that we were going to have our fresh halibut we were sold out by noon.”

At Williams Seafood Market and Wines, owner Mike Offield said the price of the fish tends to be high at the beginning of the season. Last year, new limits on fishing sent halibut prices to an all-time high, he said.

“Last year, prices didn’t drop a whole lot over the season, but this year it could,” he said. It will all depend on everything from fishing quotas to the weather.

Halibut was selling at area stores for about $22 to $25 per pound, but the price varies week to week. The specialty markets get fresh fish flown in daily from the Alaska fisheries. Most are just 24 to 48 hours out of the water by the time they arrive.

Offield said for customers who want to know that their fish wasn’t farm raised, halibut is a good choice. “It’s pretty tough to put a fence on the ocean floor,” he said.

The Monterey Bay Seafood Guide lists halibut among its “best choices.” The guide is aimed at preserving fish and fisheries. To be rated a “best choice” the fish must be “abundant, well managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways,” according to the guide.

Inland Fish and Seafood Co. owner Josh Trebe works four days a week at City Fish at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Three days a week he’s cutting fish behind the counter at his booth in the Spokane Public Market, which is open Thursday through Saturday.

Trebe said that although the ocean-floor dwellers can get quite big, he likes to buy fish that are 20 to 40 pounds to cut for fillets that are sold at his stall at the market. Last week, he said, they had a 130-pound halibut on display at City Fish just for fun. The smaller fish have better flavor, he said.

Halibut are a strange looking flat fish. Young halibut swim upright and have an eye on each side of their heads, but before long one eye migrates to the other side of its head, so both eyes are on the top side of the fish. The dark top of the fish helps it hide against the dark ocean floor, while the white belly of the fish protects it from predators looking up into the sunlight from below.

Trebe said he tells customers they don’t need much more than heat for halibut, “I don’t like to add a whole lot to any fish,” he said. He puts a bit of oil on the skin of a halibut fillet and cooks it with a bit of sea salt and black pepper.

Offield said his customers like to sear it and throw it into a hot oven to finish baking. For those who like garlic, he recommends a seasoning made by Seven Seasonings and a bit of olive oil or butter and lemon. Offield and his wife, Mandy, also share lots of recipes with customers including Sunshine Halibut and Halibut with Pineapple Chutney (recipes follow).

“You can just throw steaks right on the grill,” he said.

For those looking for a delicacy, Offield also carries halibut cheeks for a few more dollars per pound than halibut fillet. The cheeks, which are cut from a halibut’s head just where you would imagine, have a softer texture and sweeter flavor that is sometimes compared to scallops.

At Regal Street Seafood, Lanzone also likes the minimalist approach when it comes to cooking halibut.

“I’m a purist when it comes for fish most of the time, especially on really good fresh fish. I’m not a sauce girl,” she said. “If I barbecue it I put a little bit of olive oil and black pepper.”

She shared a recipe for a simple Ginger-Lime Halibut below. Customers also like a parmesan and garlic sauce sold at Regal Street Seafood, Lanzone said. She recommends they put the sauce on the fish and then sprinkle it with panko for a crunchy topping.

Be careful, because overcooked halibut will get dry, Lanzone added.

“We always tell people that when it comes out of the oven or off the barbecue that it’s going to keep cooking. You want it to be almost done when it comes out, but not quite,” she said. “It will get a few extra degrees on it.”

Sunshine Halibut

From Williams Seafood Market and Wines

Cooking spray

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

4 (4-6 ounce) halibut fillets

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper

In a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, sauté onion and garlic until tender; remove from heat. Stir in parsley and orange peel.

Place halibut in an 8-inch-square glass baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Top with onion mixture. Combine orange and lemon juices; pour over fish.

Sprinkle with salt and lemon pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Yield: Four servings

Baked Halibut with Pineapple Chutney

From Williams Seafood Market and Wines

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup rum

1 Granny Smith apple, diced

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 pineapple, diced

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

4 (4-6 ounce) halibut fillets

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.

Add onion, red bell pepper, ginger, jalapeño pepper, and garlic; stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 4 minutes stirring constantly. Add rum to pan; cook 20 seconds or until liquid mostly evaporates. Stir in apple, raisins, pineapple, sugar, vinegar, and lime juice; bring to a boil. Cook 15 minutes or until liquid thickens. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Stir in cilantro.

Place halibut in an 8-inch-square glass baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve halibut topped with Pineapple Chutney.

Yield: Four servings

Ginger-Lime Halibut

From Regal Street Seafood owner Heather Lanzone

2 teaspoons grated lime rind

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons bottled fresh ground ginger

2 tablespoons minced green onion

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic

4 (6-ounce) skinless halibut fillet

Cooking spray

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat broiler.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small saucepan. Dip each fillet into the lime mixture to coat.

Place fish on a broiling pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

While fish cooks, place lime juice mixture over medium heat cook until reduced by half

Serve sauce with fish.

Yield: Four servings

Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth

From Ellie Krieger, Food Network,

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

4 shallots, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

2 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste (see notes), or 2 teaspoons curry powder

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon, plus more for seasoning

4 (6-ounce) pieces halibut fillet, skin removed

Steamed spinach (see notes)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes.

Season the halibut with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange the fish in the pan and gently shake the pan so the fish is coated with the sauce. Cover and cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 7 minutes.

Arrange a pile of steamed spinach in the bottom of 4 soup plates. Top with the fish fillets. Stir the cilantro, scallions, and lime juice into the sauce and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the sauce over the fish and serve with rice.

Notes: Red curry paste is available in the Asian section of most supermarkets. Steam spinach or microwave 5 cups of washed baby spinach for 2 minutes.

Yield: Four servings

Hazelnut-Crusted Halibut with Apple Vinaigrette

From Kathy Casey’s “Northwest Table” (Chronicle Books, 2006)

For the vinaigrette:

1 unpeeled red apple, halved and cored

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

2 teaspoons minced shallot

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon water

For the halibut crust:

1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned (see note)

Pinch of dry mustard

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

4 skinless 1/2-inch-thick halibut fillet portions (4-6 ounces each)

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter, melted

Fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme sprigs, for garnishing

To make the vinaigrette, chop half of the apple; reserve the other half. In a small skillet, heat the hazelnut oil over medium-low heat and add the chopped apple. Cook for 1 minute, then add the shallot and sugar. Continue cooking until the apple is soft, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and remove from the heat.

Let cool, then puree in a blender until smooth. Pour the pureed mixture into a medium bowl, add the mustard, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the thyme and season with salt and cayenne. If the vinaigrette is too thick, thin it slightly with water. Cut the remaining apple half into 1/4-inch dice. Toss into the dressing. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the crust for the halibut, combine the crust ingredients – through thyme leaves – in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not so fine as meal. Set aside in a large shallow dish. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Dip each piece of fish in the melted butter, coating well. Immediately press each piece firmly into the crust mixture, turning to coat all sides well. Place the coated halibut pieces on the baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. Carefully transfer the fish to individual plates and drizzle some of the vinaigrette over them. Garnish with thyme sprigs. Pass the extra vinaigrette.

Note: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and toast in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden. For hazelnuts, you will want to rub off the skin. When toasted nuts are cool enough to handle, put the hazelnuts in a clean, nonfuzzy dish towel and rub as much skin off the hazelnuts as will come off easily.

Yield: Four servings

Grilled Halibut Sarandeado

From Better Homes and Gardens’ “Grill It!” “This chili-infused fish fillet is prepared in the style of the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. These Pacific coast locations are known for their expertise in preparing seafood,” editors write.

4 (6-ounce) halibut or grouper fillet, about 1 inch thick

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 medium Serrano chili, chopped

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Grilled green onions, optional

Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Place fish in a large resealable plastic bag set in a shallow baking dish. In a blender combine lemon juice, chili, Worcestershire sauce, coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Cover and blend until smooth. Pour over fish in bag; seal bag. Marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning bag once. (Do not marinate longer than 30 minutes.)

Drain fish, reserving marinade. For a charcoal grill, grill fish on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 8 to 12 minutes or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork, turning once and brushing with reserved marinade halfway through grilling. Discard remaining marinade.

For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place fish on greased grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as directed above.

Sprinkle fish with cilantro. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and, if desired, grilled green onions.

Yield: Four servings


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