Like many other species of flatfish, halibut is so lean that it is notoriously easy to overcook. When a meaty halibut fillet is cooked just right, it is succulent and flaky; when it’s overdone, it becomes so tough that you might even need to grab a knife to get through it.
If you haven’t quite figured out how hot your pan or oven needs to be to execute the recipe of your choice, or if you’re not great at eyeballing how long your fillets need to cook based on their thickness, try changing up your cooking method to cut your wild-caught halibut some slack. Poaching your fillets in liquid, steaming them in a pocket of parchment paper, and using the appropriate kitchen appliances can all buy you a bigger margin of error when you’re trying to hit that sweet spot of doneness, helping your halibut to retain moisture or buffering it from the harsh heat of your stove.
Here are some recipe ideas that will stop you from ever overcooking a fillet of halibut again:
Poaching is a method that utilizes gentle, even heat to cook your fish in a liquid of your choice — olive oil, broth, wine, milk, whatever best complements the other components of the dish. You can poach your fillets of wild-caught halibut on the stove or even in the oven.
So simple to make, you could make this olive oil-poached halibut from the Cooking Channel without a recipe. Simply set your halibut in a shallow baking dish, cover the fillet with olive oil, add some flavorings of your choice — this particular recipe calls from fresh fennel and thyme, which will gently infuse into the dish as the oil heats up — then cook for 10 minutes in a low-temperature oven. Drizzle some of this herb-infused oil on top of your finished dish.
Food Republic’s recipe for halibut is a step up from the last recipe, using an olive oil bath enhanced with the acidity of vinegar and the anisette notes of Pernod to poach the fillets on the stovetop. Pull the fish once it is done, then let the poaching liquid reduce: It’s going to be transformed into your dressing for a ripe tomato salad with fresh herbs.
For an even more intricately poached dish — still easy to make, but just takes a few more components and steps — Serious Eats has you conjuring up a tasty wine-butter poaching liquid to cook your fillets, in which you’ll also be simmering fresh clams until the halibut is just cooked and the clams have just popped open, releasing their salty, briny, juices. Before serving, you add more butter to the poaching liquid as well as fresh dill, cooking it down just a bit to make a rich broth to spoon over your meal. You will definitely want a crusty hunk of bread to help you soak up every drop of this.
Cooking your food en papillote is a classic French method of steaming your meal to perfection, containing all the delicious vapors and juices in a bag of parchment until you’re ready to snip the bag open at the table. This is an especially good way to cook wild-caught seafood like halibut, as the parchment protects the fish from the harsh, drying heat of the oven or grill.
Mediterranean flavors anchor this halibut recipe from Killing Thyme cooked en papillote, with components you can find in your pantry or on a shelf in your refrigerator: capers, kalamata olives, marinated artichokes. The dish is further enhanced by a dry rub spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, whose warmth will balance the cured acidity of the other ingredients.
Even if you’re not keen on recipes from celebrities-turned-chefs, this recipe for halibut cooked en papillote from Gwyneth Paltrow is worth making and committing to memory. So simple and balanced, you’re essentially just putting a few flavor-packed ingredients into a pouch with your halibut — ginger, lemon, wild mushrooms of your choice, and a glug of sesame oil—and waiting for everything to steam up in their parcel.
Suvir Saran’s recipe for halibut en papillote is marinated in a mint-yogurt chutney marinade made with fresh grated coconut, spicy green chiles, cloves — and fresh curry leaves, if you can get them, from a local Indian grocer or a shop caters to international tastes. You’ll use this thick paste to smother your fillets of halibut before sealing them into a pocket of foil, from which they’ll emerge flavorful and moist.
There are several kitchen wares that you may already have in your kitchen that you can use to make a perfectly cooked, tender fillet of halibut. They may very well become your secret weapons in the kitchen when you’re making any wild-caught fish.
A simple bamboo steamer set over a pot of boiling water will have your fish ready in less than 10 minutes with this recipe from the Food Network. While you’re waiting for it to cook, you can throw together a coconut milk sauce flavored with garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, and fresh chile peppers, which will also take less than 10 minutes to make; add a spoonful of your favorite curry paste if you want to really amp up the flavor and spice in the sauce.
If you own a slow cooker, Martha Stewart’s recipe for an Indian inspired fish curry is effortless and full of flavor. This could be a great go-to recipe for beginner cooks, since there’s little-to-no precision required, and just a couple of steps: You’re combining coarsely chopped ingredients in a food processor, adding it to the slow cooker to reduce for a couple of hours into a rich sauce, then dropping large pieces of halibut into the sauce to cook through, allowing it to meld in the spices for another 20 minutes or so.
More advanced home cooks might own a sous vide cooker, an appliance that allows you to precisely control the temperature of a water bath in which you’ll be cooking your halibut, gradually and gently bringing to temperature your fillet as well as the other components you have assembled together in your bag. This recipe from Serious Eats has you sous-vide the fillets first in butter with some basic aromatics like shallots, herbs, and lemon, then briefly searing the halibut in a pan of hotter butter to give it the finishing touches.