My husband is fishing with Captain Joe Brewer on the Hey Jude II boat. A traditional lobster boat, this fishing boat is rigged with lines and hooks each year in May to “hook” the halibut. On May 18, the opening day of the Maine halibut season, they had the chance to land a delicious 45-inch, 34-pound flatfish from the right-eyed plaice family.
Halibut fishing was once a much anticipated spring fishery in Maine. The big fish, a relative of the flounder, was arriving on the coast just before most lobsters started fishing, providing a nice sum of money in a season when money tended to be scarce. During the 1950s, landings of halibut in the state typically totaled over 100,000 pounds. During the 1960s, that number plummeted, although annual landings of over 100,000 pounds still occurred on occasion, even into the 1980s.
Here in Maine state waters, the halibut season this year runs from May 18 to June 13. Recreational fishermen can catch five halibut per boat per season, while commercial fishing vessels can land a maximum of 25 halibut per year.
Halibut is a demersal fish; they live and feed on the bottom of the oceans. Due to the nature of their diet and habitat, they contain little fish oil (between 1 and 4 percent). Their flesh is firm and dry, and often cut into “steaks”.
Halibut is popular with home cooks and restaurants. When I lived in Bangor, the chefs at Pilot’s Grill invited me into their kitchen to watch the filleting and carving of a freshly caught Stonington halibut. Today my husband cuts the fish, which is silver gray on one side and white on the other. Packaged in a vacuum bag, halibut retains its quality and freshness in the freezer for at least six months.
Halibut is delicious baked, broiled, poached and broiled. It is particularly appreciated when marinated and grilled, with a salad of freshly harvested spring greens. The Romagna Grilled Halibut recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Classic Italian Cooking Essentials”.
Hazan’s hometown of Romagna on the northern Italian Adriatic coast is famous for its fish, and its fishermen are unmatched in the art of grilling. Their secret, besides the freshness of the peach, is to soak the fish in a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, rosemary and breadcrumbs for an hour or more before doing so. Grill.
The simplicity of its recipe appealed to me. Why disguise the flavor of a fish so fresh that the flesh quivers with heavy spices and sauce? This delicate marinade softens the natural flavor of the sea and the aroma of cooking fish on the grill is deliciously aromatic.
I served our Grilled Romagna Halibut on a bed of fresh greens and pea shoots, harvested from my garden and topped with edible flowers and garlic toast. Savoring every bite of this delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meal reminded me that the best food doesn’t come from a fancy restaurant, but from a local fisherman and made in the home kitchen.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes questions and comments related to food at [email protected]
Grilled Halibut Romagna
Makes about 4 servings
1 halibut steak, about 1½ lb
Black pepper mill
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Finely chopped fresh rosemary, about 1 tbsp.
1/3 cup fine, dry, tasteless breadcrumbs
Assemble the ingredients and tools. Wash the fish in cold water, then dry it thoroughly.
Finely chop the rosemary and juice the lemons.
Place the fish in a shallow pot. Generously sprinkle both sides with sea salt and freshly grated black pepper.
Add the lemon juice, olive oil and chopped rosemary. Turn the fish two or three times to coat it well.
Add breadcrumbs, turning fish once or twice until evenly coated with oil-soaked breadcrumbs. Let marinate for one hour at room temperature, turning and basting the fish from time to time.
Preheat the grill at least 15 minutes before cooking. Place the fish about 4 inches from the heat and place the branches on the grill. Grill on both sides until cooked through, turning the fish once. Depending on the thickness of the fish, this can take between 5 and 15 minutes. While cooking, brush the top of the fish with the rest of the marinade.
Serve piping hot on the grill.
Nutritional Analysis per 6 oz Serving: 195 Calories, 9 Grams of Protein, 7 Grams of Carbohydrate, 14.5 Grams of Fat, 95 mg. sodium, less than 1 gram of fiber.