My husband fishes with Captain Joe Brewer aboard the boat Hey Jude II. A traditional lobster craft, this fishing vessel is rigged with lines and hooks every May to “hook” for halibut. On May 18, opening day of Maine halibut season, they were fortunate to land a 45 inch, thirty four pound, delicious flatfish from the family of right-eyed flounders.
Halibut fishing was once a highly anticipated spring fishery in Maine. The large fish, a relative of the flounder, would come in to the coast just before most lobstermen started fishing, providing a tidy sum of money in a season when money tended to be scarce. During the 1950s, halibut landings in the state routinely totaled more than 100,000 pounds. That number dropped during the 1960s although annual landings of over 100,000 pounds still occurred occasionally even as late as the 1980s.
Today, here in the territorial waters of Maine, the halibut season runs this year from May 18 until June 13. Recreational fishermen may harvest 5 halibut per boat per season, whereas commercial fishing vessels may land a maximum of 25 halibut per year.
Halibut are demersal fish; they live and feed on the bottom of the ocean floor. Because of the nature of their feed and habitat, they contain little fish oil (between 1 to 4 %). Their flesh is firm and dry, and often cut into “steaks.”
Halibut is prized eating by home cooks and restaurants. When I lived in Bangor, the chefs at Pilot’s Grill invited me into their kitchen to observe the fileting and cutting of a freshly caught halibut from Stonington waters. Today my husband cuts up the silver-grey-on-one side and white-on-the-other side fish, which when packed in a vacuum bag, will maintain its quality and freshness in the freezer for at least six months.
Halibut is delicious baked, broiled, poached, and grilled. We particularly enjoy it marinated and grilled, with a salad of freshly harvested spring greens. The recipe for Romagna Grilled Halibut is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.”
Hazan writes that her native region of Romagna, on the northern Adriatic shore of Italy, is famous for its fish, and that the fishermen are unsurpassed in the art of grilling. Their secret, aside from the freshness of the catch, is to steep the fish in a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, rosemary, and bread crumbs for an hour or more before broiling.
The simplicity of her 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 sweetens the natural sea flavor and the fragrance of cooking the fish on the grill is beguilingly aromatic.
I served up our Romagna Grilled Halibut on a bed of fresh greens and pea shoots, harvested from my garden, and garnished with edible flowers and garlic – grilled toast. Savoring every of bite this delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meal reminded me that the best food comes not from a fancy restaurant, but from the heart and soul of the home kitchen.
Romagna Grilled Halibut
- 1 – Halibut steak about 1½ pounds feeds 4 people
- Sea Salt
- Black pepper grinder
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Fresh rosemary finely chopped about 1 tablespoon
- 1/3- cup fine dry, unflavored breadcrumbs
- Bay leaves
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Wash the fish in cold water, then pat thoroughly dry.
- Finely chop the rosemary and squeeze the lemons.
- Lay the fish in a shallow pan. Sprinkle both sides liberally 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 the breadcrumbs, turning the fish once or twice again until it has an even coating of oil-soaked breadcrumbs. Marinate for an 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 lay the branches on the grill. Grill on both sides until done, turning the fish once. Depending upon the thickness of the fish, it may take between 5 – 15 minutes. While cooking, baste the top of the fish with the remaining marinade.