Halibut is one of the most sought-after types of fish in all of seafood, but what makes it so popular? You could point to several factors, but the most important one is the taste.
So what does a halibut taste like? Halibut has a gentle flavor that resembles the sweet taste of crab or clam. Compared to other fish, halibut is most similar to mild white fish like Flounder and Tilapia. Halibut is a great choice for people who don’t usually eat fish, and it absorbs seasoning exceptionally well.
Halibut is a fish staple year-round in the parts of the world where you can get it, but what makes this fish such a perennial favorite? Read on to find out more about halibut and why it’s considered such a great-tasting fish.
Is Halibut Fishy Tasting?
One of the major reasons that halibut is a popular fish is because it doesn’t have what people consider to be a “fishy” flavor—instead, halibut is known for having flesh that tastes mild and sweet.
Because a fishy flavor and smell are what usually puts people off of seafood from a young age, halibut is a great seafood to try for people who may think they hate eating seafood.
What is it that makes fish taste fishy? The chemical responsible for this less-than-fresh smell is trimethylamine oxide, a chemical that breaks down into derivatives of ammonia as a fish decays.
White fish (as opposed to red fish) is also lower in amines, which are natural chemicals that cause a meat to smell gamey.
This means that freshly-caught halibut or halibut that is flash-frozen should smell like almost nothing, while fish that has been sitting out in a fishmonger’s stall or fridge is much more likely to reek.
The fishy scent is one that the human brain naturally associates with decomposition, which some people can find extremely unpalatable. That’s why most kinds of seafood is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and halibut is unique in its ability to convert people who otherwise can’t stand fish.
Here are some of the things that can cause fish to taste fishy:
- Age: The older a piece of fish is, the more likely it is to have a fishy ammonia smell. This is especially true of fresh-caught fish that are not cleaned and frozen immediately.
- Mishandling: Cooked fish that is placed in a fridge with raw fish can take on a fishy aroma.
- Diet: Fish that eat marine vegetation such as algae can have a muddy or “green” flavor, as can fish that scavenge the bottom for carrion and debris. Halibut have a diet that is almost entirely made up of crustaceans and shellfish, leaving them with a sweet-tasting flesh.
- Lack of proper seasoning: Some types of fish have a naturally gamey or briny flavor (though halibut isn’t one of them). Not seasoning or spicing the fish correctly can also lead to more predominantly gamey flavors.
Most fish are good if they’re handled and cooked correctly, but halibut is among the most forgiving types. As long as its fresh, halibut has one of the least fishy flavors you can get in a marine fish.
Is Halibut Good Eating?
Halibut is an excellent fish to eat for many reasons, and it is arguably the tastiest type of fish on the market. Here are some of the advantages of eating halibut:
- Good alternative to shark: Because the texture of halibut is similar to a shark, halibut provides a much more environmentally friendly alternative. Shark-fishing is detrimental to marine ecosystems, and shark flesh is typically high in mercury, making it a threat for human consumption.
- Readily absorbs the flavors of spices and marinades: Even though it has firm meat, halibut’s mild flavor means that it is perfect for acting as the backdrop for more bold, assertive spices and seasonings. This makes it a good substitute in recipes where chicken and tofu might play a similar role.
- Highly nutritious: Along with being a great low-fat source of protein, halibut also contains high levels of essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium, selenium, and vitamin D. Halibut makes for an excellent low-calorie substitute for other forms of protein such as beef and pork.
Flavor aside, there’s plenty to love about halibut as the star of any seafood dish.
Why is Halibut So Expensive?
Along with halibut’s popularity comes a high price tag. Halibut is one of the most expensive fish you’ll see in a grocery store or restaurant. So, why is halibut so expensive? Here are a couple of reasons:
- Management practices: There are management practices such as restricting the types of fishing operations performed and mandating fishing quotas. This helps keep the population of halibut stable, but it also adds to the cost of the fish.
- Supply and demand: Halibut’s price is also influenced by its popularity. Because so many different kinds of cuisine use halibut as a seafood option, halibut fishers are able to charge a premium price for it.
It might be costlier than some other types of fish, but if you can afford it, halibut is a truly delicious fish and it’s really worth a try if you haven’t had it.
Halibut vs. Other Types of Fish
In comparison to other kinds of fish, halibut tastes most like other white-fleshed, non-oily fishes such as flounder and tilapia.
Halibut doesn’t have the muddy or “green” flavor that fish species who eat algae or vegetation do, and since halibut do not scavenge on the seafloor but instead hunts on it, they don’t take on the muddy flavor of the substrate either.
Some fish, such as mackerel, can take on a very oily, gamey flavor because of the types of small oily fish that make up their primary source of prey, such as anchovies, menhaden, and sardines.
Since halibut almost exclusively eats crabs, clams, and squid, it has a flavor that more closely mimics sweet shellfish than many other kinds of fish.
Foods That Go Well with Halibut
Many foods go along well with halibut, such as:
- Cooked greens (such as spinach or Swiss chard)
- Pineapple or tropical fruits
- Herbs (such as pesto)
If you want to try cooking halibut yourself, here are a few recipes that are sure to impress even the pickiest of eaters:
- Spiced Halibut and Lime Skewers
- Grilled Halibut with White Wine Sauce
- Almond-crusted Halibut with Lemon-Garlic Butter
- Perfectly Pan-fried Halibut with Grapefruit and Mango Salsa
- Halibut Soup with Watercress
- Citrus Glazed Halibut
- Poached Halibut in Tomato Curry Sauce
- Filet of Halibut with Potato Crust and Cider Cream Sauce
- Halibut Kebabs with Pancetta and Grilled Bread
- Fennel-Roasted Wild Alaskan Halibut
Halibut is among the tastiest fish you can eat, and some would argue that it’s THE best-tasting fish. I’ve gone through a great deal of trouble to catch one myself out in the deep seas of Alaska, and whether you buy it yourself or catch it, it is undoubtedly a sweet and delicious white fish.
If you’re nervous about trying halibut, or if you don’t really like fish in general due to the fishy-flavor, then I HIGHLY recommend you try halibut. It might just convert you into a fish lover.