Have you noticed that fish tend to lie? Or should I say that people tend to lie about fish. Chilean Seabass is not a bass at all but actually Patagonian Toothfish. California White Seabass is a member of the Croaker family, Pacific Red Snapper is really Rockfish and Halibut is just a really big Flounder.
Now that I got off my chest, let’s talk halibut. Halibut, found on the continental shelf from California to the Bering Sea, can grow to over 400 pounds grow to nine feet long and are among the largest fish in the sea and the largest member of the right-eye flounder family. They have a translucent white flesh with an incredibly high moisture content.
Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis), also known as Alaskan halibut, is sustainably harvested, relatively low in mercury, and has been named one of the top 10 best seafood choices in terms of taste and environmental impact, by the Seafood Choices Alliance and recommend as a best choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Pacific halibut populations are healthy and are not overfished.
Are you ready for the interesting fact of the day – Halibut begin life in an upright position with an eye on each side of the head. When they are an inch long, an extraordinary transformation occurs: the left eye moves over the snout to the right side of the head. When the fish is six months old, they settle to the bottom in shallow shore areas. With eyes on both sides of the head, the halibut can survey all that passes and, aided by camouflage, ambush passing prey. Pretty cool huh?
Although many fish are called halibut, there are really only two species – the Pacific and the Atlantic. The Atlantic halibut, once extremely bountiful, has been so overfished that the commercial fishery in the United States is now closed. Fishing for Pacific halibut is strictly limited to the bottom longlining method. Bottom longlining causes little habitat damage and has low bycatch associated with it. Pacific halibut is managed by the United States and Canada through the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), formed in 1923. The IPHC annually establishes total allowable catch (TAC) levels for halibut that will be caught commercially in the U.S. and Canadian. Along with the quota system, Pacific Halibut is seasonal and runs from approximately March 15 though November 15.
There is also something called California halibut – not really a halibut but rather a turbot. Now, I have nothing against turbot and have enjoyed quit a few — especially with a nice butter sauce – but they’re not halibut.
So, what about Halibut Cheeks you may ask? Halibut cheeks are literally the meat taken from the outside of the gill covers. Succulent and meaty, they have an almost lobster-like sweetness and a firm, thread-like texture similar to skate. They are usually around the same price per pound than halibut fillet but you may have to special order them from your fish supplier. You can substitute small pieces of halibut fillet but the flavor of the cheeks is far superior and is worth the extra effort needed to find them. Remember, to help sustain our ocean’s resources, we need to use every part of the fish.
Now, for something completely different, an obscure reference from one of my favorite Monty Python skits:
My fish’s name is Eric, Eric the fish. He’s an halibut… I chose him out of thousands. I didn’t like the others, they were all too flat.
More on Sustainable Seafood:
Choosing Healthy, Ocean-Friendly Seafood is a No-Brainer
Environmental Defense: Farmed Caviar is a Less Expensive, eco-Friendly Alternative to Severely Depleted (and Banned) Beluga
Smart Seafood Choices
image credit: naotakem