When I visited Alaska last summer, I ate halibut every day, sometimes twice a day, and not because there was nothing else to eat in the 49th state. It was just that, in my experience, the fish was so deliciously prepared.
Halibut's snowy white flesh -- lean, firm textured and mild flavored -- lends itself to a variety of cooking methods. My favorite is grilled, but the fish is also delicious sauteed, fried, baked, poached or steamed. And halibut steaks are superb for kebabs and stews because the meat doesn't fall apart during cooking.
One evening during my trip, on the bustling boardwalk in the small town of Homer, I watched teen-agers clean hundreds of halibut hooked by visitors who had been out on chartered boat trips.
Homer holds an annual derby with a $10,000 prize for the largest fish. When I was there, the champion to date weighed 300 pounds, though the beasts can grow to 650 pounds. Sport fishermen may take only two of the feisty fish daily. And the Alaska Halibut Commission limits commercial fishing to one or two "openings" per year; during these, boats are permitted an unlimited catch in a 24-hour period.
Here on the East Coast, most of the Pacific halibut sold comes from Alaska, most of it frozen.
But keep a lookout in the spring and next fall for the fresh halibut extravaganza at Clyde's of Columbia (and other Clyde's locales). Clyde's flies in 4,000 pounds of fresh halibut from Ketchikan to serve grilled, stewed and in salads.
These recipes are from Clyde's corporate chef, Tom Meyer, who has developed a repertoire of preparations for halibut. The recipes also taste delicious with other flatfish, such as flounder, sole and turbot.
CLYDE'S GRILLED HALIBUT WITH WARM MUSTARD AND TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE
6 halibut fillets, about 8 ounces each
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups light olive oil
3/4 cup champagne vinegar, warmed
1/4 cup white wine, warmed
salt and pepper to taste
Brush fillets with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over hot coals until skin flakes. Whisk together shallots, tarragon, parsley and mustard. Drizzle in oil. Add vinegar, wine, salt and pepper to taste and whisk until smooth. Pour sauce over fish and serve immediately. Serves six.
CLYDE'S HALIBUT CHOWDER
1/4 cup butter
5 pounds halibut bones
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 1/2 cups chopped leeks
stems from 1 bunch of parsley
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 large carrots, sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups diced tomatoes,
2 cups tomato puree
10 Bliss potatoes, sliced with skin on
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch fennel seeds
3 pounds halibut fillets, roughly chopped
To make stock, melt butter in a saucepan and add bones, onion, leeks and parsley. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Add salt, wine and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, skimming off froth. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes. Strain.
To make chowder, heat oil in a Dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes and tomato puree. Bring to a boil and add potatoes, thyme, parsley and fennel seeds. Simmer, uncovered, 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add halibut and cook just until it begins to fall apart, 5-10 minutes. Serve with crusty bread. Makes 2 1/2 quarts.