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Atlantic halibut | A Saint-Lawrence delicacy worth gold

It is local, wild, delicate, delicious and abundant. A marine treasure of the St. Lawrence, Atlantic halibut has carved out an enviable place for itself on the menu of the province’s gastronomic tables. But, despite a favorable current, in terms of full recognition, he is still swimming towards his goal.

Posted on June 13

Valerie Simard

Valerie Simard
The Press

“I’m halibut edge to edge! In Quebec’s gastronomic community, Atlantic halibut (not to be confused with Greenland halibut marketed under the name of turbot) does not have to sell its salad. Versatile and easy to make profitable for restaurateurs, who, in addition to the four fillets, can serve cheeks, necks and the tail, it has won over many chefs, including Kim Côté, in Kamouraska.

In 2016, when Health Canada authorized genetically modified Atlantic salmon (without labeling) for human consumption, the chef of Côté Est removed this fish from his menu and replaced it with halibut. His customers followed him.


PHOTO JHA PHOTOGRAPHY, PROVIDED BY CÔTÉ EST Kamouraska

During an outdoor country event, the chef of Côté Est cooked a whole halibut over a wood fire.

“I offer it in ceviche, in gravlax, as a dish, I make halibut barbecues, mechouis, he lists. I do it all the way. His establishment is only open four days a week, and he estimates that he uses three whole halibut a week. In the fall, he freezes nets in preparation for the winter, with the fishing season for this species extending mainly from April to November.

Halibut is also a regular on the summer menu at bistro Chez Victoire, a well-known establishment in the Plateau Mont-Royal.


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, THE PRESS

Alexandre Gosselin, chef-owner of Chez Victoire

It is a meaty fish, which has good flesh. It is very versatile and goes well with seasonal produce. And it is less known to the general public, but it is eaten very well in tartare.

Alexandre Gosselin, chef-owner of Chez Victoire

“It’s my favorite fish along with sablefish,” he adds.

If the reputation of halibut is well established among gourmets, this great groundfish does not yet occupy, on the plates of Quebecers, a place worthy of its size. It is for this reason in particular that it is still on the list of marine species valued by Fourchette bleue.

“However, it is a fish that is doing really well from the point of view of biomass, and whose fishing technique [la palangre : une grosse ligne de fond à laquelle sont attachées des lignes secondaires] is very durable, very respectful of the seabed,” boasts Sandra Gauthier, CEO of Exploramer, an organization that manages the Fourchette bleue program.

We would do well to put it more on our plates.

Sandra Gauthier, CEO of Exploramer

A healthy stock

The estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence are now rich in halibut. The species is found from south of Rimouski to Newfoundland, as well as in the Maritime provinces and in the North Atlantic, off Greenland. Dominique Robert, professor of biological oceanography at the Rimouski Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Quebec at Rimouski, has been studying halibut for several years.

“The stock, which has long been overfished, is continuously increasing,” he notes. It crashed in the 1950s to hit a historic low 30 or 40 years later before rising again in the decades that followed.


Photo JHA PHOTOGRAPHY provided by Côté Est Kamouraska

A halibut steak and seasonal vegetables, served at the Buvette Côté Est

“It’s easy for fishermen to catch their quotas,” he continues. We don’t have reliable abundance measurements at the moment, so we’re relying on commercial fishing indices and research surveys to slowly increase the quota. It has been increased approximately every two years to reach today around 1500 tons [dans l’ensemble du Saint-Laurent]. These are the highest amounts in at least 50 years. »

Like other species such as redfish, halibut have benefited from warmer waters and need not fear further warming. “There is still room to expand to the north,” explains Dominique Robert.

It’s a resource that we can consider sustainable right now, so we don’t have to worry when we buy halibut: am I contributing to the decline of a population? This is not the case.

Dominique Robert, professor of biological oceanography at the Rimouski Institute of Marine Sciences of the University of Quebec at Rimouski

However, the halibut caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence does not have sustainable fishing certification, unlike the neighboring stock in the Atlantic. More precise abundance measurements will be necessary for a possible approach, specifies Mr. Robert.

However, the abundance of halibut is relative if we compare it to that of smaller fish, which explains why its recreational fishing is not permitted — a pilot project was launched last winter in the Saguenay and could eventually lead to the opening of the recreational halibut fishery in this area closed to commercial fishing.

This relative abundance, combined with strong demand on the world market, explains one of the main obstacles to more widespread consumption of halibut in Quebec: its price.


PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Halibut steaks (or filets) sell for around $30 a pound in the Montreal area.

“It’s one of the most expensive fish we’ll find on our plates,” notes Sandra Gauthier. You have to position it as a premium product, like an Angus AAA beef steak or a Tomahawk. »

If you can find halibut fillets or steaks at a price of around twenty dollars a pound in the fishmongers located near the fishing grounds in Montreal, you have to plan to spend $10 more.

For chef Alexandre Gosselin, being able to present his customers with a dish of halibut caught in Rimouski is a great asset. “There’s a certain pride in saying that we have a big fish that was lined up by a local fisherman and brought to your restaurant two days later. »

How to cook Atlantic halibut?


Photo Mathieu Waddell, La Presse archives

Halibut is a delicate fish, and it is imperative not to overcook it. “A nice halibut steak is pan-fried for three or four minutes on each side, then for one or two minutes in the oven, in order to keep a center that is raw enough to bring out different textures,” recommends Alexandre Gosselin, of the restaurant Chez Victoire. Halibut also withstands the intense heat of the barbecue very well. The chef suggests charcoal. “It has time to soak up the smoke from the coal, and it really tastes great. »

Sandra Gauthier loves the Grenoble-style halibut, a hot sauce made with butter, diced lemon, capers and cubes of breadcrumbs. A dish she tasted at La Maison du Pêcheur, in Percé. “It really was the best fish I’ve eaten in my life! »

Rimouski halibut, sea buckthorn, cucumber and avocado sashimi


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, THE PRESS

Rimouski halibut, sea buckthorn, cucumber and avocado sashimi

By Alexandre Gosselin, chef and co-owner of Chez Victoire restaurant

Yield: four servings

Ingredients

  • 400g Atlantic halibut, cut into 0.5cm slices
  • Ponzu-sauce
  • 100ml soy sauce
  • 100ml rice vinegar
  • 100ml lime juice
  • 15g chopped ginger
  • Sea buckthorn gel
  • 125 ml sea buckthorn juice
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml sugar
  • 5g agar agar
  • cucumber nage
  • 1 large English cucumber
  • Lemon juice (in sufficient quantity)
  • Salt (enough)
  • Avocado-lemon puree
  • 2 lawyers
  • 15ml Greek yogurt
  • Lemon juice (in sufficient quantity)
  • Salt (enough)

Trim

  • Sliced ​​radish (enough)
  • Fried French shallot (in sufficient quantity)
  • Basil microgreens (in sufficient quantity)
  • Pickles cherry tomatoes
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 200ml rice vinegar
  • 200g sugar
  • 200ml water

Condiments

  • 100 g of cucumber in brunoise
  • 100 g of radish in brunoise
  • 25g sea buckthorn berry*
  • 25g chopped glasswort
  • 15g chopped chives
  • * Sea buckthorn berries can be replaced with rhubarb.

Preparing the ponzu sauce


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, THE PRESS

Chef Alexandre Gosselin prepares his halibut sashimi.

  • 1. Mix all the ingredients and set aside in the fridge.

Preparation of sea buckthorn gel

  • 1. In a saucepan, heat the sea buckthorn juice, sugar and water. Bring to a boil.
  • 2. Add the agar-agar and heat for 1 minute.
  • 3. Leave the appliance to rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, pass the contents through a blender, then through a strainer. To book.

Preparing the cucumber nage

  • 1. Take the whole English cucumber and put it through a juicer.
  • 2. Add salt and lemon juice. To book.

Preparation of the avocado and lemon puree

  • 1. Peel the avocados.
  • 2. Put the avocados in a blender. Add yogurt, lemon juice and salt. To mix together.
  • 3. Pass the mixture through a strainer.

Preparation of pickles tomatoes

  • 1. Peel the cherry tomatoes.
  • 2. In a saucepan, combine the water, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil.
  • 3. Add the cherry tomatoes and let stand as long as possible.

Assembly

  • 1. In a large white serving bowl, place 5 slices of halibut.
  • 2. Add enough ponzu sauce to coat the fish and marinate for 5 minutes.
  • 3. In another bowl, combine the filling ingredients.
  • 4. Add a small amount of ponzu sauce and season.
  • 5. Add this garnish to the halibut slices.
  • 6. Make 3 dots of sea buckthorn gel using a pipette and 5 dots of mashed avocado.
  • 7. Add two pickles halved tomatoes.
  • 8. For the finish, add the radish, glasswort, basil microgreens, fried shallot and 2 tbsp. cucumber nage.
  • 9. Repeat the assembly steps for the other portions.

Learn more

  • 300kg
    Halibut can reach over 2.5 m in length and weigh over 300 kg. Generally, it measures around 1 m in length and weighs from 3 to 50 kg.

    Source: Quebec Fishing Industry Association

    736 tons
    Quantity of Atlantic halibut caught in Quebec in 2021. Of this volume, 280 tonnes were exported.

    Sources: Fisheries and Oceans Canada-Quebec Region, MAPAQ compilation (2022-06-03) and Global Trade Tracker (2022-06-03)

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