Sous Vide Halibut – tender and flaky fish that’s full of delicious garlic butter flavor!
The sous vide method cooks it to the precise temperature you set, and then finishes with a quick searing to get the halibut beautifully browned!
Enjoy a healthy and restaurant-quality fish at home! Great for a dinner party or just for your family!
WHY SOUS VIDE HALIBUT?
Halibut is a lean white fish that’s firm and flaky with a mild flavor. The biggest challenge in preparing halibut is that it’s so easy to overcook.
There is a very short window of the perfect doneness with traditional methods like grilling, pan-searing and baking. Even slightly overcooked halibut can be dry and chewy!
Enter sous vide! It’s a French cooking technique that eliminates short windows of time for perfect doneness.
The food is vacuum-sealed in a bag and then cooked to a very precise temperature in a water bath.
If you are new to sous vide, here is a sous vide cooking guide that you’ll find everything you need to know.
This is the best way to cook halibut, and you will get the perfectly tender and flavorful fish every time! All you need is a Sous Vide Immersion Circulator and some zip-lock bags.
INGREDIENTS YOU’LL NEED
- Halibut: The best sous vide halibut recipe starts with a high-quality fresh piece. Always ask to smell it before buying. Fresh seafood shouldn’t have any smell except the briny smell of the ocean. If it smells fishy, you should walk away.
- Garlic: Use fresh garlic for the best flavor.
- Lemon: It helps to tenderize the fish while adding a wonderful flavor.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter.
- Salt and Pepper: For seasoning. Optional herbs such as fresh thyme.
Pro Tip: Store your halibut in the refrigerator with a bowl of ice underneath to keep it super-cold until ready to use.
HOW TO COOK SOUS VIDE HALIBUT
- Season the fish: garlic, butter, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. I recommend using unsalted butter so that you can control the salt level. I also like adding lemon slices for some tangy flavor. The combination of garlic and butter with fish is simply irresistible. Trust me when I say garlic butter makes a good halibut the best halibut!
- Vacuum seal the halibut: Add seasoned halibut and lemon into a zip-lock bag in one single layer. Vacuum seal it using the “water displacement” technique: seal all but one corner of the bag. Slowly place it in the water bath, making sure everything below the zip-line is covered by water. Then seal the rest of the bag.
- Sous vide cook: Place the vacuum-sealed bag in the sous vide warm water bath and cook it for 30-60 minutes at 132°F (55.6°C).
- Finish with searing: A really quick searing adds a beautiful browned look to the fish.
That’s it, you’re done! So easy! Serve it with potatoes and green vegetables such as broccoli and green beans for a complete meal.
WHAT TEMPERATURE AND TIMING SHOULD I USE?
Halibut straddles that fine line between firm-fleshed fish, like tuna and swordfish, and flaky fish, like cod or hake.
When raw, it’s fleshy and firm, but as it cooks, it separates into large, meaty flakes that require a bit of finesse if you want to avoid toughening it or drying it out.
Like other flaky white fish, halibut meat is composed of layers of firm flesh separated by connective tissue.
This connective tissue breaks down as the fish cooks, allowing the firmer muscle layers to separate and flake.
I cooked halibut to temperatures ranging from 105°F to 150°F, in five-degree increments, to gauge how temperature affects its texture. Here are some key numbers.
120°F (49°C) Halibut
- The connective tissue in halibut can be unpleasantly tough at lower temperatures, but at 120°F (49°C) or so, it starts to soften up, allowing the meat to separate into distinct layers with a fork. It still has a sort of soft, sashimi-like texture, but it should be tender and moist.
130°F (54°C) Halibut
- At 130°F (54°C), halibut flakes quite easily, and the flakes have a much firmer, meatier texture that offers nice chew without being tough or dry. This is my favorite temperature for halibut.
140°F (60°C) Halibut
- Halibut cooked at 140°F (60°C) is right on the edge of where I’d want to eat it, exhibiting maximum meaty chew that is just edging into tough territory. This is a good temperature if you like your jaws to work a little bit for a meal.
|Just starting to flake, tender, near-raw layers||120°F (49°C)|
|Very moist, tender, and flaky||130°F (54°C)|
|Moist, flaky, and firm, just at the cusp of tough||140°F (60°C)|
There’s no need to leave halibut in a water bath for longer than it takes to just cook through—a half hour to 45 minutes is plenty for one-inch fillets, and 45 minutes to an hour for fillets up to two inches thick.
HOW DO I SHOP FOR HALIBUT?
Halibut are bottom-feeding flatfish that live in deep, frigid waters.
As mentioned above, they can grow truly massive in size (up to several hundred pounds), but most you find at the supermarket these days are fish in the 30 to 40 pound range, yielding fillets about an inch to an inch and a half thick.
Halibut is pricey, and a rare treat for me, so when I buy it, I like to look for larger fillets cut from near the center of the fish, where the fillets will have a more even shape above and below the central ridge of meat that follows the halibut’s spine.
As with most fish, I prefer to have the fish-cutter give me a couple of larger pieces, as opposed to individual portions.
Using a sharp chef’s knife at home to trim them down into single-portion sizes gives me more control over the finished product.
DO I NEED A VACUUM SEALER?
You don’t need a vacuum sealer for sous vide halibut, and, in fact, I wouldn’t recommend using one.
The powerful suction of a vacuum sealer can put pressure on the soft halibut, leaving it dented and misshapen. Because of the short cooking time and low temperature, a regular old zipper-lock bag will work fine.
To seal a zipper-lock bag air-free without a vacuum sealer, use the water displacement method. It’s fast, efficient, and tailor-made for situations like this.
To do it, simply place your food in a plastic bag, and seal the bag almost all the way, leaving about an inch open. Slowly lower the bag into a tub of water, holding the opened end above the water level.
As the bag is lowered, the water pressure should force air out of it. Just before it fully submerged, seal the bag completely, and you’re ready to cook.
HOW SHOULD I SERVE IT?
Halibut is delicious seared naked in hot browned butter with aromatics.
When searing halibut, I sear with the presentation side down. (That is, the best-looking side—typically the side that you just removed the skin from—should be in contact with the pan.)
Some folks like to use clarified butter, or simply oil, which will give you a more delicate golden-brown color.
But, just as when I’m searing beef steaks, I enjoy the flavor that a few burnt milk-protein solids can lend to a piece of meaty fish.
I start by searing in butter, then I add some aromatics, like thyme, shallots, or garlic, and baste the fish with the flavored butter, flipping it over just for a few moments to give the second side a touch of color without risking toughening it up.
After only a minute or two in the pan, you’ve got a butter-based, seared, tender piece of halibut that makes a satisfying meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Halibut cooks more like a thick steak—well-browned and -crusted on the outside, with a juicy, tender center. And, just like with a steak, cooking sous vide can help you nail that medium-rare center every time.
The length of time needed to heat it through depends on the thickness: 1/2″ (13mm) thick in 14 minutes. 1″ (25mm) thick in 35 minutes. 1.5″ (38mm) thick in 1 hour 25 minutes.
Halibut is best when cooked to a low internal temperature. It will readily flake at only 118 degrees, the equivalent of a rare steak. Also, before grilling, brush a super-fine veil of homemade, or if you must, store-bought mayonnaise on both sides of the fish. This will help keep it from sticking to the grill.
Searing after cooking your fish sous vide is an optional step, but can add flavor and a bit of crunch. In particular, searing the skin side of your fillet (if you kept the skin on) is a great idea – crispy fish skin is like the bacon of the sea.