Thursday, May 13, 2010

Get Cheeky for the Halibut!

Everyone loves halibut -- that firm, white, mild fish that gives the chef great option as it can be grilled or baked, smothered in tasty sauces. But did you know that the most  succulent part of the Pacific halibut is the CHEEK?

That’s right, the cheek. Have you ever seen the head of a halibut? If you have, was it probably an adult, whose developmental pattern is rather incredible. At birth they have one eye one each side of the head and swim rather like a salmon. But when they reach six months, one of those eyes migrates to the other side, and they take on a flounder appearance.

Among flat fish, halibut is truly king, averaging some 24 to 30 pounds (and one monster halibut was recorded at a whopping 734 pounds). You can appreciate why these are favorites of sport fishing!

But I digress. Each halibut also has two cheeks, and this explains why halibut cheeks might at times seem a bit pricey compared to halibut fillets (which are just a wee bit less succulent). Sometimes you may have difficulty finding any, after all, cheeks are only two to a face! If you’ve ever seen these medallions from an Alaska halibut, you might think they were giant scallops. And indeed you can use them like scallops. Popular ways to fix them include sautéing, grilling or baking.

I love to buy fish and seafood, and the season for fresh halibut cheeks is now upon us (March – November). My own philosophy for these tender, savory morsels is that “less is more.” I just toss them in some seasoned flour and sauté them in a 2:1 mix of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and unsalted butter until lightly golden (just takes a few minutes). I squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over it, and sprinkle some capers and fresh ground pepper. With a leafy salad, or perhaps tender asparagus sprigs, and some orzo or rice, I’ve got a five-star meal in my own kitchen with a minimum of time investment and one simple seafood order.

halibut fillets and cheeks, I guess you could say that I am hooked!

When it comes to Pacific
seafood market, real or virtual, keep in mind that the respected environmental organization Seafood Watch has the Atlantic halibut on its “Avoid list,” and the wild-caught Pacific or Alaskan salmon on its “best choice list.” California halibut from hook-and-line and bottom trawl are on their “good” list. So make your choice—and bon appétit!

Note: When you are at the

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