Seafood: Halibut, California

Halibut, California

There are two types of halibut found off the west coast, each having imaginative names: Pacific halibut and California halibut.

The California halibut is much smaller than its cousin, weighing in between 6 and 50 pounds, (the record is 72 lbs.) whereas the Pacific halibut can tip the scales at 300 pounds or more. The California halibut is a classic passive aggressive fish that strikes at bait when it’s not looking and, being a flatfish from the flounder family, sits on the bottom and disguises itself until some poor hapless anchovy wanders by. The next thing you know, it’s halibut one, anchovy zero.

California halibut are not just found in California, but reportedly range all the way from British Columbia to the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Here in California they’re divided into 2 groups, Central Coast and Southern California. While the population of Central Coast halibut is good, the population in southern California is a fraction of what it was: 14% of pre-commercial levels, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Again, it pays to know where your catch comes from.

California halibut have a slightly sweet taste. If frozen, halibut is easy to overcook, resulting in a very dry  texture. Occasionally a fishmonger will inadvertently sell one that is “chalky” – when raw it appears white and cooked, and when cooked it turns mushy and falls apart.

Nutritionally speaking, “Cal Hal” is high in protein and low in fat and a great source of omega 3s. Thicker filets or larger fish are perfect for grilling and should be basted while cooking. Thinner steaks and filets are good sautéed, poached or even steamed.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Rating:

  • “Best Choice” (handline caught)
  • “Good alternative” (bottom trawl and set gillnet)

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