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Chefs Find Halibut a Great Culinary Catch


06/24/2004
Alaskan halibut hailed as most versatile and delicious
by Randy Hartnell


Chefs at the West Coast's top seafood restaurants are singing the praises of Pacific halibut, most of which—like our Vital Choice halibut—is caught in Alaskan waters.

In a recent article for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, writer Carolyn Jung summarized the experts' advice by saying, "Pick Pacific halibut, the worry-free fish."

As Ms. Jung went on to report, "Pacific halibut, also known as Alaskan halibut, is sustainably harvested, relatively low in mercury, and last week was named one of the top 10 best seafood choices for 2004 by the Seafood Choices Alliance conservation group in terms of taste and environmental impact."

All halibut not created equal
Of the two species—Pacific (also called Alaskan) and Atlantic—only Pacific is widely available, because Atlantic halibut has been so severely over-harvested that the U.S. fishery is closed. In any case, chefs prefer to cook with Pacific halibut because its fattier flesh helps keep it moist (So-called "California halibut" is actually a variety of turbot, which, like Atlantic halibut, is less fatty—hence more prone to overcooking—than Pacific/Alaskan halibut).

Ms. Jung's article relayed these expert comments on the virtues of Alaskan halibut:
  • "It's the perfect beginner's fish. It's so mild, and it just flakes in your mouth. And you can do anything with it." Aiden Coburn of Farallon Fisheries, distributor and wholesaler for California's The Fish Market restaurants, where halibut is the best-selling fish.
  • "I really like the flavor of Alaskan [halibut]. With more fat, it has a more sea bass-like texture.' Chef Michael Dunn of Yankee Pier restaurant in San Jose, California.
Cooking halibut
Chefs find halibut a very versatile fish. Here's how Pacific and Alaskan halibut is being prepared in some of California's most creative seafood restaurants:
  • Grilled with a tart cherry chutney—McCormick & Schmick's in San Jose.
  • Pan-seared with white beans, chorizo, corn, zucchini and roasted tomato and olive salsa—Habana Yacht Club in San Carlos.
  • Poached, then plated with black trumpet mushrooms, salsify ragout, green garlic and mushroom vinaigrette—Aqua in San Francisco.
  • Pan-seared fillets with a roasted garlic tapenade, or crown-wilted spinach salad with warm bacon dressing and toasted macadamia nuts—Yankee Pier in San Jose
(Note: Because halibut is not as high in fat as salmon, be careful not to overcook it.)

The Vital Choice difference
While most any good quality Pacific halibut makes good eating, Vital Choice Alaskan halibut offer an extra edge when it comes to freshness and safety. Halibut can live for many years, and grow to 500 pounds or more. Because these larger, older fish accumulate more contaminants, we select only younger fish to ensure optimal purity. While the average commercial halibut exceeds 50 lbs., we purchase only 12- to 20-pound fish.

In addition, Vital Choice purchases only Pacific halibut landed in Alaskan waters by hook and line. This environmentally superior method results in very little harmful "by-catch" of other species, which commonly occurs when fishing with large nets. For this reason Pacific Halibut is recommended as a "best seafood choice" by all major environmental organizations.

Safe, even for the most vulnerable
As to safety, the Alaska Division of Public Health says that halibut poses no risks*, even to pregnant women, women of childbearing age or young children, who are advised to avoid swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark because of high mercury levels (Those species average 0.75 to 1.45 parts per million of mercury, versus an average of only 0.2 parts per million in Pacific/Alaskan halibut).


Sources
  • Bulletin No. 11, June 4, 2002 Statewide Mercury Hair Bio-monitoring Program
  • Bulletin No. 6, June 15, 2001. Mercury and National Fish Advisories Statement from Alaska Division of Public Health: Recommendations for Fish Consumption in Alaska
  • Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish. From http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html

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