Like flounders, halibut have both their eyes on their top side. When very young, halibut infants swim upright like normal fish. As they grow up, they start tilting over, and eventually end up swimming completely horizontally. The eye that is then on the bottom migrates around to join the other eye on the top of the fish. On top, their skin is mottled dark green or brown to act as camouflage. On their underside, they are white.
Females take about 10 years to reach sexual maturity, males take about 7 years. A halibut can live up to 40 or 50 years.
Halibut will eat anything, including crabs, shrimp, young cod and haddock, squid, octopus and herring.
Pacific halibut used to come to market almost always frozen. Since 1991, it has been easier to find it fresh.
Halibut is sold in fletches, fillets and steaks. 4 fletches can be cut from a Halibut, all from the front two-thirds of the fish: 2 fletches from the top, and 2 fletches from the bottom. A fletch is a very large fillet, which is then usually cut down into smaller fillets. Steaks are cut from the back, near the tail.
Halibut is relatively low in bones for a fish. It’s not very oily, and the flesh goes very white when cooked.
In 2003, operations to farm halibut in earnest got underway in the Shetlands, Scotland. The water is cold up there, but halibut prefer cold water, anyway. With the market for farmed salmon is already saturated, the business people in the Shetlands decided to go into Halibut instead. It’s estimated that the fish will need 3 to 4 years growth before they reach market size.
Choose Halibut pieces that are almost translucent with no fishy smell; they should be shiny looking, and not dull or yellowish.
Halibut cheeks are cut from the head, behind the eyes. They used to just be discarded with the head; now, they are considered a delicacy and are more expensive than other parts of the fish, because they are sweeter than the rest of the fish. The cheeks will range in size from 1 to 2 inches wide, to 4 or 5 inches wide when from a more mature fish (5 to 13 cm.) They are round, skinless and boneless, but have a bit of a stringy texture.
Halibut has very firm flesh and holds together well in cooking. This makes it particularly good for grilling / barbequing.
Too often, however, it is overcooked and made dry — the centre should just be becoming opaque. It is done when it reaches an internal temperature between 130 and 135 F (55 to 57 C); however, to be safe, the current recommendation is to aim for 145 F (63 C). See nutrition below.
For a piece ¾ inch to 1 inch thick (2 to 2.5 cm) at 400 F (200 C), cook no more than 10 minutes. Allow 10 minutes per inch of thickness, turning once. When barbequing, grilling, frying or broiling, do 4 minutes per side, turning just once.
Recipes may call for pieces of the same thickness to be cooked much longer, up to 1 ½ hours — the longer cooking time is compensated for by the lower cooking temperature called for, often around 325 F (160 C). This gives other flavours in the fish a chance to marry with the halibut flavour
Turbot, or other mild-tasting white fish.
Like many kinds of fish, halibut is susceptible to worms and parasites. Roundworms and flukes can be transferred to humans, causing a disease called “anisakiasis”. Their larvae can burrow into the lining of your stomach wall. They used to have to removed by very invasive surgery; now they can be removed with fibre optics inserted into you.
Marinades won’t kill the critters — so even Ceviche dishes aren’t safe, nor will pickling or curing do the trick. The halibut must be smoked, cooked fully, or frozen.
- To be safe when smoked, they must be smoked at 150 to 200 F for 4 to 6 hours (65 C to 93 C);
- To be safe when cooked, cook to 145 F (63 C) for 5 minutes to kill any larvae;
- To be safe to eat raw, it must have been frozen for 48 hours below 0 F (-17 C). 15 hours at the colder temperature of -40F/C will also do the trick, as will 5 days in the range of 0 to 10 F (-17 C to -12 C). Generally these temperatures can only be reached in commercial freezers.
Freeze for 4 to 6 months. Uncooked can be refrigerated 2 to 3 days; cooked can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Commercial Halibut fishing began in the North Pacific in the 1890s.
Pacific Halibut is “Hippoglossus stenolepis”; Atlantic is “Hippoglossus hippoglossus”. It earned the “hippo” name from its large size.
The English name “halibut” comes from it being a special fish served on meatless holy days — in Middle English, “hali” meaning holy, and “butte” meaning flat fish.
Halibut Farming Arrives. The Shetland News. 20 Sept 2003.