If your halibut happens to be a big boy (or girl), say 25 pounds or more, be careful to harvest the cheeks, which reside in a well next to the mouth on either side of the fish. To remove, insert the knife at angle and cut in a circle. While you may never need to carve up a whole halibut, removingthe skin is a definite prospect, which is trickier than it sounds. Sliding a knife along the bottom of the fillet doesn’t work. What does seem to work is sliding the bottom of the fillet along the knife.
Place the fillet on a cutting board, skin side down. Using a sharp knife, detach the skin and flesh at one end of the fillet. This is going to be a problem, but stay with it until you’ve got about an inch of skin free. Now, you’ve got something to clench on to with your fingers, tongs, and pliers whatever works. Get a good hold on the skin, slide the knife back into position, and then pull the skin back against the knife, moving it from side to side as you go (the skin, not the knife). This does put stress on the knife, so be sure to point the blade away from any body parts or miscellaneous people.
What’s the secret to happy halibut? Moisture. On the boat that might mean cooking with a dollop of mayonnaise on board, but for us landlubbers olive oil, white wine, and butter . It’s the fat in the fish or lack of it that’s a problem. Halibut is not devoid of fat, but compare to such fin favorites as salmon and tuna, it’s the skinless chicken of the sea. The best methods for preparing leaner fish are those that involve a bit of moisture, such as steaming, braising, poaching, and pouch cooking.
Cooking in a pouch made of folded parchment paper is an excellent way to prepare numerous fish, but it’s especially good for halibut, which appreciates the moist environment, the delicate cooking method, and the subtle (or not so subtle) addition of other flavors. The cool thing is that the fish is, more or less, cooking itself. Moisture inside the fish heats it from the inside out, essentially steaming it in its own juices (along with whatever else you added to the bag). Best of all, that steam stays in the pouch, infusing the fish with even more flavor, as well as protecting it from overcooking. Pouch cooking is more tolerant than other methods, which is especially nice for a finicky fish like halibut.
Pouch cooking is also an superior low-fat cooking method, if that’s what you’re after. As long as there’s enough moisture in the pouch from the fish, veggies, wine, or even water no additional fats are needed. This is also a surefire way to impress dinner guests. Let ’em tear open their own bag and watch their faces light up as the aroma fills the air; less work for you, more fun for them. Speaking of less work, clean upafter cooking in a piece of parchment paper is a snap.
If you’re thinking about tossing a piece of halibut on the barbeque, think steaks or thicker fillets. If saut is the way, go with a thinner fillet. Halibut has a bit of firmness to it, meaning it’ll hold together better than your ordinary flaky white fish, but it does cook rapidly, especially if it spent some time in the deep freeze. Don’t be afraid to stop cooking a fillet that’s just shy of opaque in the center to save it from drying out.
In recent years, deep fried halibut has become a popular substitute for cod in many fish-and-chips establishments, especially on the West Coast. Halibut doesn’t have the generous moist qualities of the best cod, but it does offer a flavorful, slightly firmer alternative.