Smoked halibut has a lovely mild and delicate natural taste, which is best when matched with light seasonings. This recipe uses white wine, garlic, and black pepper as a marinade to produce a clean and delicious flavor profile before slowly smoking the fish over alder wood.
Smoked halibut boasts a mild-yet-sweet flavor that works well for all sorts of cooking techniques and seasoning combinations. It’s long been a restaurant menu staple and now you can make it at home.
If you’re keen to expand your repertoire of home smoking recipes and want to give fish a go, halibut is one of the best to get started with.
From how to fillet and prepare this delicious fish, discover how to smoke halibut perfectly today.
What is Halibut?
Halibut is a white fish popular for its mild, slightly sweet taste and firm, meaty texture. It is a large flatfish (much like plaice, sole, or flounder) and produces extremely lean and bright white meat. Its mild-tasting, firm flesh makes halibut one of the best fish for smoking as it takes on the flavor of the smoke really well.
Halibut is a fish that doesn’t actually taste fishy; people most commonly compare its mild and meaty taste to that of crab or clam.
Smoking halibut can help to bring the sweeter side of the natural flavor. Marinating, cooking, or serving halibut with butter can also add to the silky texture and rich taste of halibut fillets.
How to Buy Halibut
Halibut will be easy enough to find in the grocery store or at the local fish market, but it is on the slightly higher end of the price scale (compared to fish like cod), so you want to ensure you’re getting the freshest fish possible for your money.
When buying fresh halibut for smoking, there are a few key things to look for:
- Smell: Fresh fish shouldn’t have a fishy smell. Halibut is an ocean-caught fish, so it may have a slight sea-water smell to it, but it shouldn’t have a bad odor.
- Flesh: Halibut fillets should be bright white in color and feel firm when pressed. If buying a whole halibut, the skin should be taut and firm.
- Gills: If buying a whole fish, it can be useful to check the gills; they should be slightly red and moist. Avoid buying a fish if the gills feel slimy or dry.
Fresh halibut is in its peak season from May to September, it’s easy to find frozen halibut fillets year round, but fresh is always best when looking for fish to smoke.
How to Fillet Halibut for Smoking
Having to fillet a fish yourself can seem like a daunting process, but halibut is quite possibly one of the easiest fish to prepare and fillet at home.
It might not be the most attractive-looking creature, but since it’s a flat fish, a whole halibut can be filleted to produce four good-sized filets (2 from the front and two from the back).
Make sure you have a sharp knife to hand before starting to fillet a fish. Specialist filleting knives are affordable and can help to make the job a lot easier as they tend to have a flexible blade that allows you to get a better angle when releasing fillets from the bones.
- Have your halibut placed on a flat work surface. Placing your knife just behind the gills, make a curved cut that runs along the back of the gills and meets the lateral line. Continue that cut down to the tail.
- Take your knife and adjust the angle so that you can follow the initial cut and release the fillet from the bones
- Keep working through the area in a long, cutting motion until the whole fillet is removed
- Repeat those steps for the second fillet on that side of the halibut
- Turn your halibut over and repeat those steps to release the final two fillets
Times & Temperatures
Halibut should be smoked over indirect heat in a smoker set to around 250-275℉ (120-135℃). For fish to be safe to eat, it has to reach an internal temperature of 145℉ (62℃); an average size halibut fillet should take around 45-60 minutes to reach this temperature and cook fully.
The best way to check whether your halibut has finished smoking is by using an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature.
Best Wood for Smoking Halibut
Since halibut has such a mild natural flavor, it’s important to choose a type of wood that will produce smoke to complement the taste of the fish rather than mask or overpower it.
Alder wood can give a smokey flavor that is subtle enough not to overshadow the fish, or any marinade/seasoning added. Mild woods such as Pecan and Apple also pair well with fish and give a slightly sweeter smoke taste.
How to Stop Halibut from Sticking to Smoker Grates
If you smoke your halibut with the skin on, it shouldn’t stick to the grates of your smoker.
If you prefer to cook your halibut fillets with the skin off, you can coat the smoker grate with a light covering of oil to stop them from sticking. Alternatively, you can smoke the halibut in a fish basket or sit it on top of aluminum foil.