Hippoglossus stenolepis is the official name for Halibut and once you have seen one, you will instantly know why the fish is given a name that invokes thoughts of the hippopotamus. The Pacific Halibut grows up to 500 pounds although most often they are harvested between 50 and 100 pounds. Even at 100 pounds, a halibut is over 5 feet long.
These are big fish and it is fitting that the big state of Alaska is so well known for halibut. Even though halibut is mostly associated with Alaska, they can also be found along California, Japan and Russia.
Halibut are flat fish that begin their long lives as round little larvae with their eyes on opposite sides of their head. Spawning usually occurs in deep waters and the young larvae hatch after 2 weeks. One very interesting fact is that the free-floating larvae are moved along the ocean currents towards shallower waters in a northwesterly direction while the adult halibut migrate in a northeasterly or southern direction. This protects the young larvae from being eaten by the older halibut. Once the larvae are a couple of inches long, they begin a transformation that changes them from the round little fish with eyes on opposite sides to a flat fish with eyes on one side! The left eye moves over the snout to the right side of their head. At the same time their pigmentation changes so that they are white on the underside and dark brown on the upper side. What an amazing process this is – and it all takes place by the time the fish are 6 months old. One would think it would be pretty painful but I couldn’t find any research to support this!
As young halibut, they eat plankton and small fish. After the first few years, they begin to eat larger fish including cod, rockfish, herring, crabs and, as indicated above, smaller halibut. Halibut can live as long as 40 years although most of them are harvested between 8-15 years old. Male halibut mature around 8 years old and typically grow to only 80 or 90 pounds. Female halibut are the big ones – they mature around age 2, live longer and are the only ones to reach the record-setting sizes. The oldest female halibut on record was 42 years old; the oldest male on record was 27 years old.
As flatfish, halibut do spend most of their time on or near the bottom of the ocean floor, along muddy or gravel banks. They are often harvested in waters that range from 100 to 900 feet deep. They tend to stay in the shallower waters during the summer and move to the deepest waters in the winter. Their migration patterns take them all over the northern Pacific Ocean – a lot of “ground” to cover.
Halibut is a lean whitefish. It has a sweet, delicate flavor and firm, snow- white flesh. It is suitable for grilling, baking, poaching or steaming. It can be broiled or used in a fish stew. Because of its firm texture, it can even withstand being beer-battered and deep-fried and is often called the “steak of seafood”.
The largest of halibut provide not only filets but also halibut roasts that can easily be baked with a rich sauce – just like a beef roast might be (with different cook times of course!) Those concerned about their health probably know the benefits of eating fish and halibut is no exception. It is low in calories, fat and sodium. A 3-oz portion has 115 calories, 2 grams of fat (only .5 gram of saturated fat), 60 mg. of sodium and a whopping 22 grams of protein.
One very important thing to keep in mind whenever purchasing halibut is to look for and only buy halibut with the snowiest-white flesh. After harvest, the fish are killed (often times before being brought on board the boat) and “bled” while their hearts are still pumping in order to remove all traces of blood from the flesh. If any blood remains, or if the fish was improperly bled, the flesh will immediately begin to spoil and will be yellowish, or in the worse cases, gray.