Gently steaming fish on top of braised vegetables is inspired by Asian stacked steamers. Except all you need is a deep sauté pan or wok with a lid, spanking fresh halibut fillet and some leeks and carrots.
Halibut used to be my favourite fish, but over time I started going off it because of the horribly steep prices and sustainability issues. But is the situation better now?
How sustainable is halibut?
Some good news: farmed Atlantic halibut is sustainable and reasonably priced, especially the one farmed in Scotland. Avoid Norwegian halibut; for some reason this otherwise attractive country has a shocking fishing and fish-farming record. And don’t even get tempted by wild-caught: it is dramatically overfished.
If you buy your fish from the supermarkets, look out for the blue MCS approval sticker. It’s trickier at the market: I much prefer to pay my money to small, local businesses but the provenience of the produce is more difficult to establish and depends on the truthfulness of the traders.
Still, it’s worth asking and trusting they will not fib to sell their fish.
How to cook halibut?
Halibut is an enormous fish so it is usually sold in bone-free slabs. Smaller specimens may be cut into steaks with the segment of the main bone in the middle but still, this is painlessly boneless eating experience.
The flesh, especially when cooked fresh, is gorgeously flaky, succulent and slimy in the nicest way. If cooking from frozen, you should take good care not to overcook it as it will then go dry and stringy.
Halibut chunks are delicious seared in butter with simply salt and pepper, like scallops. You can also dredge it in flour before shallow-frying in hot oil. And this is another method which apart from making an incredibly healthy dish, is also easy and uses only one pan for the fish and the vegetables.
Deliciously braised leeks
I love leeks; if only they didn’t smell quite as strong, even when sitting around in the kitchen, chopped or only trimmed! All alliums smell strong, so it’s advisable to prepare them shortly before cooking, unless the scent if your choice of household fragrance.
Leeks are great sauteed, with wild garlic in season or with cream and Parmesan for extra indulgence. This is a different method: gently braising, which will generate moisture and steam to later cook the halibut on the bed of the vegetables.
Don’t be surprised by the addition of grated carrots here: leeks and carrots are an excellent match.
The leeks need to be sliced quite but not paper-thin. They go deliciously with a couple of salty anchovies melted down in butter and contrastingly a large glug of maple syrup added at the end of cooking. Plus dill: I don’t need an excuse to add dill to anything, really.
Steamed halibut in braised leeks
All it takes is a deep sauté or frying pan with a lid to perfectly steam the fish atop vegetables. Once softened, add a splash of water to the leek and carrot mix as they are not quite watery enough on their own to generate steam enough.
The fish fillet is perched upon them, the pan covered with the lid, and the heat adjusted so there’s enough oomph from the cooking to steam the fish but not too much, so the leeks don’t catch at the bottom.
It only takes five to ten minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillet. Prod the halibut with a knife to check the flesh is opaque and flakes to touch.
You can cut the halibut into individual portions before cooking, by all means. I like to cook it first, flake and divide it afterwards so it stays succulent.
Different fish? Absolutely: any white chunky fillet or even skinless salmon, if cut generously will be suitable.
Different vegetables? You can swap leeks for onions if you like and add sliced mushrooms instead of carrots.
More halibut recipes
Halibut is also excellent poached in butter. That’s right, and no, it’s not greasy. Yes, you can reuse the butter.
Salt and pepper halibut chunks, seared in hot butter like scallops, that’s the simplest way of cooking this delicate fish.
And halibut is also suitable to be cooked slowly in low temperature oven, like in the slow roasted fish recipe.
More leek recipes
Raw leeks are quite pungent but lose their bite if you salt and macerate them lightly. And then make leek slaw, a super-healthy side salad.
Leek and potato soup is a classic warming dish – just don’t blend it into baby food.
Leeks and chicken are as nice as leeks and fish. Creamy chicken with leeks and mushrooms is one of my oldest and easiest chicken recipes.