Pacific Halibut

All About Alaska Halibut

By Dale Mayo, August 11, 2022

Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) are large flatfish in Family Pleuronectidae, prized by both sport fishermen and seafood lovers for their size and delicious meat.  Flatfish swim sideways, with one side facing up – usually dark gray or brown to provide camouflage on the sea floor – and the other side facing down – usually white.  Because they are so large, halibut have few predators and are high up in the ocean food chain. Female halibut are larger than males and produce more eggs based on their weight – a 50-pound female can produce about 500,000 eggs and a 250-pound female can produce 4 million eggs. While the very largest halibut can grow to 8 feet and 500 pounds, the average halibut when caught are in the 20 to 50lb range.

Males reach maturity by about 8 years old and females by 12 years old.  Pacific halibut spawn during the winter in deep water along the continental slope, mainly in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and south to British Columbia.  The larvae slowly float close to the surface, where they remain for about 6 months until they reach their adult form and settle to the bottom in shallow water.  Larval Pacific halibut feed on zooplankton (tiny floating organisms) and juveniles eat small crustaceans and other organisms that live on the seafloor.  Halibut larvae start life in an upright position like other fish, with eyes on both sides of the head but the left eye moves to the right side of the head when the larvae are about one inch long.  By the time they are six months old, young halibut swim sideways along the bottom in shallow water.  Adults eat variety of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Pacific halibut are most common in the central Gulf of Alaska, particularly near Kodiak Island.  They stay in water between 20 and 1,000 feet, but have been found at depths up to 3,600 feet and prefer cold water (from 37-46 degrees Fahrenheit).

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. wild-caught Pacific halibut is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.  Recommended levels of fishing are set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and fishing gear used to harvest Pacific halibut have minimal impacts on habitat and minimize bycatch.  Pacific halibut is also rated as a good seafood choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Halibut On Plate

Broiled halibut, by Mike65444

What Does Halibut Taste Like?

Pacific halibut is a lean fish with mild, sweet tasting, firm white flesh that pairs well with bolder seasonings like pesto, lemon juice and basil.  For best results, be sure you thaw it safely and pat it dry before cooking.  Because it is a lean fish, halibut can be overcooked.  To avoid overcooking it, use a meat thermometer – measure the temperature at the thickest part of the fish and remove it from heat when it reaches 140°F.  The fish will continue cooking with the residual heat even after you take it off the heat and should reach 145°F (the USDA-recommended minimum internal temperature) while it rests.  A google search brings up hundreds of halibut recipes.  Halibut is a versatile fish that can be baked, broiled, grilled, sautéed, poached, or steamed.   

The best fish for tacos are white-fleshed, mild, saltwater fish such as halibut, cod, or flounder.  But keep the toppings simple (cabbage or guacamole) so you can tase the mild flavor of the fish.

Halibut has another special attribute:  because it is such a large fish, halibut has edible cheeks.

halibut fillet on plate

Halibut Cheeks, by Aaron Gustafson

What are Halibut Cheeks? 

They are the cheek muscles of large halibut (only very large fish or ones with strong jaws have edible cheeks).  According to Hank Shaw, James Beard Award-winning author and chef, “Halibut cheeks are the tenderloins of the fish world: Diminutive nuggets of awesome that only get shared with the worthy, like a lover, best friend or child.”  They are very, very special.

How to Cook Halibut Cheeks? 

You can cook them in any number of ways. Hank Shaw likes them “seared hard on one side, like scallops, but dusted in flour and fried is also good. Halibut cheeks are excellent poached in butter or olive oil, too. They are also nice in a Thai fish curry, and do very well in my recipe for halibut puttanesca, as well as Greek honeyed fish with ouzo.”

    Halibut ranks among the best fish for people who think they don’t like fish.  The least fishy fish are mild white fish (including cod, flounder, Alaskan halibut) that taste slightly sweet have almost no Umami flavor. Umami is the savory, salty, and briny flavor which seafood lovers enjoy.  

    Halibut vs cod 

    Halibut has a dense and firm texture - it’s thicker and firmer than cod, which is flaky and dense.,   Many consider it to be like cod, though it’s a little sweeter and firmer, and less oily.

    Halibut vs flounder

    When compared with flounder, halibut is meatier and less flaky, with a significantly firmer texture. Halibut is also considerably leaner than flounder. Both halibut and flounder have a mild, slightly sweet flavor with no fishy taste.

    Get it now!

    Halibut was called “haly-butte” in Middle English, meaning the flatfish to be eaten on holy days.  Now, halibut eaten any day of the week.  Because it has a mild flavor and a firm, meaty texture, halibut is a favorite – even for people who claim not to like fish.  It is also easy to prepare, with little fishy smell.  Fish is one of the easiest proteins to prepare - in general, the less you do, the better. It defrosts and cooks quickly for a last-minute meal, goes well with lots of different flavors, and can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques.  It is one of the leanest proteins you can eat and is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to heart and brain health, and is packed with vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, Niacin, iron, zinc, and vitamin A. 

    You can get Pacific halibut and halibut cheeks from Sizzlefish right now, wild-caught in the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska, off Baranof Island.  Sizzlefish halibut is skinless and boneless and size-selected to yield perfectly tender, flaky fillet servings. 

    Alaska halibut cheeks are prized for their delicate, sweet texture. They are the most flavorful cut of the entire Halibut. Pan-seared or grilled, they are a great addition to any seafood connoisseur's diet.  Each pack is 0.5lb and individually vacuum-sealed for your convenience.

    Enjoy this special delicacy! 

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halibut
    2. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/7-reasons-why-size-matters-halibut#:. Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on March 28, 2022
    3. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=halibut.main
    4. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pacific-halibut
    5. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=halibut.main
    6. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/pacific-halibut
    7. https://www.seafoodwatch.org/recommendation/halibut/pacific-halibut-36995?species=126
    8. https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-halibut/
    9. Donnelly, K. (2019). The best fish to use for tacos. Food & Wine, December 8, 2019. https://www.foodandwine.com/seafood/best-fish-use-tacos
    10. Shaw, H. (2021). Halibut cheeks with saffron tomato sauce. Honest Food. March 4, 2021, updated September 22, 2021. https://honest-food.net/halibut-cheeks-recipe/
    11. Shaw, H. (2021). Halibut cheeks with saffron tomato sauce. Honest Food. March 4, 2021, updated September 22, 2021. https://honest-food.net/halibut-cheeks-recipe/
    12. https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-halibut/
    13. http://www.differencebetween.net/science/difference-between-halibut-and-cod/
    14. https://www.gourmetfoodstore.com/the-best-tasting-fish-15962
    15. Alfaro, D. (2022). What is halibut? Buying, cooking, and recipes. The Spruce Eats. February 2, 2022. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-halibut-5217514
    16. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/education/wns/pacific_halibut.pdf
    17. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2021/easy-fish-recipes.html


    Special Offer Unlocked
    10% OFF Your First Subscription Box
    The Easiest Way to Add More Sustainable Seafood to Your Diet
    Claim Offer