Being lean, halibut benefits from gentle sous vide cooking, and stands up well to a quick sear at the end as well.
Image source: Flickr CC user stu_spivack
As a seafood lover and cook, the fancy foams, deconstructed ingredients, and space-age technology of molecular gastronomy-type cooking doesn’t hold much appeal for me. My family and I love simple summer gatherings where we throw all sorts of fresh seafood on a grill, stand around chatting while it cooks, and pull it off and eat it as it’s ready. But there is one technique from modernist kitchens that has revolutionized cooking fish for me and I bet it will do the same for you: sous vide. Personally, I love using it to cook fresh halibut.
Cooking Is in the Bag
Bagged chicken ready for their hot water bath. Image source: Flickr CC user Arnold Gatilao
Sous vide just means cooking under vacuum (I know, it sounds better in French). In a nutshell, it involves placing proteins like fish or beef in a vacuum-sealed bag and cooking them very slowly at low temperatures in a device called an immersion circulator, which is basically a hot water bath with a precisely controlled temperature.
A Nomiku immersion circulator at work.
Image source: Flickr CC user Dave Nakayama
Immersion circulators used to be prohibitively expensive and complicated since they were originally created for medical applications. But as sous vide has become more popular, the technology has come down in price and is much more user friendly. I like Nomiku, an immersion circulator created by three tinkerers who first launched their product on Kickstarter. It goes for $199.
Great for Fish
What makes sous vide so great for fish? First, it takes a lot of the doubt out of cooking. Because the fish is cooked in a controlled manner, it’s all but impossible to over- or undercook it. It’s also very clean. There is little clean-up and no scrubbing fish skin off the grill. And while cooking even the mildest fish can leave a lingering fishy scent in the house, sous vide doesn’t have that problem, since the cooking is done in a sealed bag.
One of the biggest benefits of cooking with with sous vide is it makes cooking for parties or large groups a breeze because the fish can be cooked in advance and held at the proper temperature until you’re ready. The fish will already be cooked and just need some grill marks or quick caramelization in a pan to give a little browning and offer a contrast to the delicate flesh inside. This is how many restaurants manage to turn out large volumes of food with consistent quality. Try it at your next dinner party with fresh halibut ordered online, in any amount you need.
The best argument, though, is the how the fish tastes. Fish cooked in sous vide will always be perfectly, uniformly moist every time. Cooking fish sous vide with the seasonings in the bag is also foolproof--the long cooking at a low heat will produce delicate but deeply flavored dishes.
My Choice for Sous Vide Seafood
I think halibut is a particularly good candidate for sous vide. Halibut is a lean fish, which makes it fairly easy to dry out on the grill or in the oven. That won’t happen with sous vide. The meaty, thick steaks or filets lend themselves well to sous vide and they’re sturdy enough that it’s easy to give them a final sear on the grill.
Lemon-Orange Sous Vide Halibut
Here’s a citrus-based recipe for halibut that I love to use.
For four people, you’ll need:
Depending on what kind of immersion circulator you use, your setup will vary, but preheat your device to 131℉. Lightly season each piece of fish with salt and pepper. Using heat safe sous vide bags (SousVide Supreme is a good brand; you can get these on Amazon or in most stores that sell cookware), place each piece of fish in a bag and add enough olive oil to lightly coat the fish, about a tablespoon. Also add a slice of lemon and orange to each bag. Once the circulator has reached temperature, add the fish and cook for 20 minutes. When done, carefully remove the fish from the bag and sear on a hot grill for 20 seconds on each side until grill marks appear. While not necessary, this will improve on the texture and give you the same look as conventionally-prepared dishes, since fish cooked sous vide ends up being all the same color. Melt the butter and whisk it with a couple squeezes of lemon juice, a squeeze of orange juice, and salt to taste. Drizzle over the fish.
This is a dead simple recipe in which the flavorings are very subtle. That also means that there’s no covering up the fish, even with a fancy cooking device like an immersion circulator. To get the best flavor, it’s wise to order high quality halibut online from a trusted sustainable seafood vendor like DailyFreshFish.com. Your fish will arrive at your door in any amount you need--great for parties and large gatherings, like sous vide--and will come straight to you from the fishermen, without sitting in a grocery store seafood case. It’s as fresh as you can get it without catching it yourself, and ready for a star treatment in a sous vide bath.