Ask Eric: Two great recipes for halibut cheeks

Dear Eric: I would appreciate your advice on the best way to prepare halibut cheeks.

Frank Webb

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Dear Frank: Halibut cheeks are portions of flesh removed from the head of the fish. They have an almost sweet and luxurious flavour. The texture and oval shape somewhat resemble a scallop.

And cooking methods you would use for scallops — such as grilling, roasting and pan-frying — work for halibut cheeks. In today’s recipes, both of which serve two, I’ve used the latter two techniques.

In one, I roasted the cheeks in a lemon and garlic mixture. In the second one, I pan-seared the cheeks and adorned them with a creamy mustard and chive sauce.

Halibut cheeks vary a lot in size. When they are taken from a smaller fish, they will be about the same size as a sea scallop. When taken from a very large halibut, they’ll be more like a small hamburger patty in size. That’s why, in today’s recipes, I’ve given a range on how many halibut cheeks to use.

Halibut cheeks cook quickly. When ready, they’ll feel slightly firm, not hard, a sign you have overcooked it, and not soft, a sign it’s not cooked through. When cooked, the flesh will also lose its translucency and become opaque.

Halibut cheeks are a popular item and often in limited supply. In Victoria I found them at Finest at Sea Ocean Products, 27 Erie St. (telephone 250-383-7760; website I bought them frozen and thawed them in a sided dish overnight in the refrigerator.

Some grocery stores, such as Thrifty Foods, may also be able to order in halibut cheeks for you.


Roasted Halibut Cheeks with Lemon Butter

Fine fish quickly roasted in an easy-to-make lemon/butter mixture spiked with garlic.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

2 Tbsp melted butter

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

1/4 tsp paprika

• pinch cayenne pepper

1 small garlic clove, minced

4 to 8 halibut cheeks, depending on size (about 300 grams)

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl. Pat the halibut cheeks dry, and then set in a shallow-sided baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Spoon the butter mixture over the halibut cheeks. Bake uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheeks are just cooked. Divide between two plates, top with pan juices, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Pan-seared Halibut Cheeks with Mustard Chive Sauce

Sumptuous fish swimming in a luxurious cream sauce.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: About 7 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

4 to 8 halibut cheeks, depending on size (about 300 grams)

• salt and white pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup white wine

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

2 tsp snipped fresh chives

Pat the halibut cheeks dry, and season with salt and pepper. Place the oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the cheeks and cook one minute on each side, or until almost cooked through. Transfer cheeks to a plate.

Drain excess oil from the skillet. Add the wine and garlic and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Simmer and reduce the cream until it lightly thickens. Mix in the mustard and chives; season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Return the cheeks to the skillet and heat them in the sauce until cooked through, about two minutes.

Divide the cheeks between two plates, top with the sauce and serve.


Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday. Submit questions about cooking techniqes or ingredients by email.

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