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Healthy Fisheries Are More Catchy - Monterey Fish Market

A Tale of Two Halibut

Two types of halibut are generally sold in Bay area fish markets, and they both come from healthy fisheries:  the Pacific halibut, often referred to as Alaskan halibut, and the California halibut, which is actually not a halibut at all,  but rather a very large member of the flounder family.  Seafood is often mislabeled in the marketplace for a number of reasons; colloquialisms which have stuck, marketing, or just plain confusion, but that's for another day.

The 2010 Pacific Halibut Season has just opened!

and the first fish flown down from Sitka Sound, Alaska are now available. Weather is tough in the North Pacific now, so prices will start high, but expect prices to quickly fall as more boats are able to get out. Halibut is found throughout the entire North Pacific and Bering Sea from Canada to Russia, but the inshore fishing grounds of Southeast Alaska produce the freshest and best-handled fish. Thanks to direct air-freight,
these fish are quick to market as well.

Fresh Alaskan halibut will be available from now until November 15th 2010.

Although Pacific halibut may reach three hundred to four hundred pounds, they are usually marketed at much smaller sizes; twenty to eighty pound fish being the usual, while fish over 150 pounds are uncommon.

The Pacific halibut fishery, internationally managed, is a model of sustainability and good management. Alaskan halibut is certified as a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Alaskan halibut is mild flavored, with a forgiving nature that keeps it moist, even if left on the heat too long. It is a versatile fish that is adaptable to any cooking method and accepts pairing with most ingredients, making it the perfect palette for any sauce or cooking style.Halibut cheeks, which will be available periodically throughout the season, are considered a delicacy;  firm and sweet flavored, they resemble a large scallop and can be used in the same way. Sauté, grill or fry, then serve with a pungent Romesco Sauce. Halibut bones make an excellent-flavored stock.

The highest-quality California halibut are taken by hook and line from late spring through fall, when they migrate offshore. The flesh is firm, with a mild-sweet flavor. Due to its low fat content it can easily become dry, so gentle cooking and moist-heat methods such as steaming or poaching work best. Cooking California halibut in parchment is almost foolproof; wrapping the fish in blanched cabbage leaves then steaming or braising also works well. The inshore hook and line fishery of spring and summer produce stellar fish appropriate for *raw dishes.

* When preparing seafood meant for raw consumption practice safe hygiene; wash cutting boards, knives, utensils, and your hands with hot, soapy water before beginning. Some wild fish may be susceptible to infective parasites, so care should be exercised. Choose only the freshest fish. Slice the fish into fine batons, cubes, or slices no more than a quarter inch thick, and examine the flesh as you cut. Parasites are easily visible to the naked eye.

Halibut Baked in Parchment
with Spring Vegetables

Serves four

  • Four 3-5 oz halibut fillets
  • 6 cups of  assorted spring vegetables such as: asparagus, spring onions, carrots, new potatoes,  baby artichokes
  • 4 sprigs of thyme, or herbs to your liking
  • 4 bay leaves, or aromatics to your liking
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 4 thin slices of lemon
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs butter

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Tear off four 18-inch sheets of parchment paper and fold each piece in half, then spread each piece back open. Blanch any vegetables you choose until not quite tender.

2. Mix the vegetables, aromatics, salt, pepper, herbs, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl,  then arrange one quarter of the mixture with  each piece of halibut on the paper. Top with lemon slices and butter.

3. Fold the sheet of parchment over to enclose the ingredients. Starting with the corner near the folded edge, make overlapping folds in an arch, pleating one on top of the other until the opposite corner of the  folded edge is reached. Twist the last fold at the end of the package several times to make a tight seal, and fold it under the packet..

4. Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake until the paper turns brown around the edge and puffs up, 10-12 minutes.

5. Place each packet onto a plate. Carefully cut  into each top to allow the steam to escape. For the full visual and aromatic effect, cut them open at the table.

excerpt from Fish Forever by Paul Johnson

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