Exotic Seafood Survey #3: Halibut

The best dish I ate during a cruise in Alaska was a surprise special. The ship’s captain went fishing one day and pulled up a 200-pound halibut. He sent it to the galley, where the chef made it a verbal dinner special. It was magnificent: a thick block of white, flaky goodness, moist and vivId, in a sauce with a little cream, peas, and red pepper.

A halibut is a gigantic flounder. It can outsize the boat from which it was caught. (If you don’t believe that, look at the halibut hanging on the wall in the Anchorage Airport.) Like flounders, halibuts lie on the bottom of the sea, waiting for a good-looking fish to swim within dinner distance. It’s highly thought of in the northern Pacific coast, where it’s in the company of salmon as the great gourmet fish of the region. It’s also caught in the north Atlantic.

In New Orleans restaurants, halibut usually runs as a special. If you ever encounter it, first make sure that it’s fresh. Frozen halibut is a factory fish and is both tough and tasteless. The fresh fish is wonderful, with a very mild flavor so good that even those who prefer stronger-tasting fish look forward to eating it. The most likely restaurant for trying halibut is Gautreau’s, where Chef Sue Zemanick loves it and tries to get keep it on the menu most of the time.

If you ever wind up with some halibut in your kitchen, the way to prepare it is to either bake or broil it. It’s best cooked to the point where it’s still very moist inside. It is a fine fish for sauces, especially those with cream and some assertive ingredients like saffron, green peppercorns, or fennel.

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