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Pan-seared halibut is a beautiful, flavorful way to cook one of the world's best fish. It can be tricky to get right though. You want it cooked all the way through, but cook it for just a minute too long, and you're left with a dry piece of flavorless cardboard (and yes, I've done this many, many times).
The perfect halibut is just barely cooked through in the middle, flakes perfectly, and is so so juicy. It's also a versatile vehicle for tons of different flavors. Some classics include lemon, garlic, butter, anchovies, capers and tomatoes - but we're going in a different direction with this one.
What Is Halibut?
Halibut is a type of flounder that lives in Northern oceans. It's got a clean, sweet taste and a gorgeous flaky texture (if you cook it right). It's super popular because it's so versatile, and combines well with many different types of flavors. You can also cook it pretty much any way you want - although in my opinion, pan seared is definitely the best.
Is it Healthy?
It totally is, although it depends on how you cook it. Deep fried and covered in beer batter is definitely not going to be as good for you as oven-baked. It's got tons of omega-3 fatty acids and it's a great source of protein.
Your Halibut Questions, Answered
Yes, it does. Halibut has a mild, sweet flavor that's perfect for people who aren't necessarily fish lovers. The flavor isn't overwhelming, and it goes with so many different types of foods.
Pan searing is the classic, and it ensures deep flavor on the outside, while still being beautifully cooked inside the fillet.
It depends on the size, but generally, you can seared on both sides for 3-4 minutes per side. If you're baking in an oven, at 350F, it should be around 12-15 minutes. In an air fryer, about 12 minutes.
Shoot for 130F-135F. The fish will be firm, flaky and cooked through, but anything more than that and you're going to dry it out.
First, make sure you're using a meat thermometer so you don't over-cook it (the internal temperature should be around 135F). Second, make sure you're cooking it with lots of butter or oil! This definitely helps prevent a dry fish.
Here's what you'll need for this pan-seared halibut recipe:
- 4 halibut fillets (skin on or off)
- Bulb of fennel
- Olive oil, salt and pepper
- Champagne vinegar
How to Make the Best Halibut
The way to make the best halibut is to sear it on a high heat, for about four minutes per side. The searing gives it a great flavor and golden crispiness around, while keep the inside flaky and moist (sorry, I had too). That being said, this is also a matter of personal preference. It also tastes great roasted, poached, grilled or steamed. So many options!
How to Keep it Moist
The absolute most important part of pan-searing halibut is making sure you don't over cook it. I love using my cast-iron skillet for this, because it heat so evenly, and it's pretty well seasoned for us at this point. We're also going to need a meat thermometer. If it's your first time searing a fish, I would recommend checking it often. These guys cook so much faster than you think! We're looking for an internal temperature of 135F - which ensure perfect texture, firmness, and making sure it doesn't dry out.
Another important part of this equation is to make sure you have some fat to cook it in. This can be either butter or olive oil (we're using olive oil here for the flavor).
Prep the Salsa & Fennel
For the salsa, we're going to segment our grapefruit - this is just a technique where we cut the fruit and try to get as little pith as possible (it's bitter, and we don't need that added bitter with grapefruit). Cut the fruit into chunks, and add it to a small bowl with the vinegar, green onions, and basil. Let the flavors mellow out together while you get the rest of the meal ready.
For the fennel, we're going to slice the bulb with our knife parallel to the fawns at the top, and cut it into four equal slices (we're sort of trying to make a fennel steak). Lay them on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Throw them in the oven at 450F for 10-15 minutes. Flip them at around seven minutes in. We want them to be caramelized, but not mushy, so the high and fast roasting method is going to work best for us here. While the fennel is roasting you can sear the fish!
Sear the Fish
First, we need to preheat our cast-iron pan so it's smoking hot. Let it heat up for 5-10 minutes over medium high heat. Add your oil. Prep your fish by patting them down with paper towels (the dryer they are the more crispy they will get). Season it super well with salt.
And now let's talk about with skin or without.
This is definitely less common when it comes to halibut - because it's pretty difficult to chew. Most chefs will remove the skin before cooking it (and it tends to be a bit easier to cook this way as well). However, it can help to make sure that the halibut meat doesn't fall apart in the pan while you're cooking it - and some people do like it.
If you're going to be adventurous and try pan searing with the skin - make sure you're using a non-stick skillet on high heat. Start cooking with the skin side down, and letting crisp up and caramelize before flipping it over and letting it finish cooking on the other side. Again though, my preference is definitely without the skin.
Season your halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the pan is smoking, add your fillets. Let your halibut caramelize. It should a couple of minutes - if it's getting too brown right away, turn your heat down a bit. Let it cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. The key really is that you want it to be golden brown on at least one side. Flip it over, and let it cook through, to a temperature of 135F. This should take another 2-3 minutes. But keep checking with your thermometer!
Can you Air Fry it?
You definitely can air fry it - especially with this recipe where the fish cooks separately from the rest of the ingredients anyway. Lots of people love this method of cooking because it's short, and makes for easy clean up. It's a little harder to get the internal temperature right, and you will be missing the sear and caramelization, but it's a great option if you're trying to eat healthy.
Just make sure your halibut is dry (pat it with paper towels), set the air fryer to 350F, and cook for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of your fish.
Tips and Tricks
Cooking fish can be tricky - it definitely takes some time and practice to be able to hit that exact temperature you want. But here's a few things that should help make it easier:
- I feel like I keep repeating myself, but use a meat thermometer. Don't try and eyeball it, don't think you can tell the temperature just by looking at it. This is the only no-fail method of cooking fish that I'm aware of.
- If you're fish has caramelized too fast, (i.e. it's burning on the outside, but raw on the inside), you can just finish it in the oven at 400F. Again, just keep an eye on the temperature so you know when it's done.
- Season it super well. Because of the mild flavor of halibut, it needs the seasoning to help it out.
- Cook it at the last minute - the halibut should be the last thing you cook and the last thing that goes on the plate.
- Sear on a high heat. This helps with the caramelization, and also, when you sear it properly, the fish shouldn't stick to the pan (famous last words, lol).
How to Serve Pan Seared Halibut
This meal is light and bright, so I would stick with that theme on the sides. Try:
- Warm Zucchini Salad with Mint & Pistachios
- Easy Roasted Potato Salad
- Spring Pea, Mint and Ricotta Dip
- Easy & Elegant Arugula Pesto Pasta
For halibut, and this dish in particular - head for a Sauvignon Blanc. Normally, you would likely go for a Chardonnay with halibut, but a Sauv Blanc typically carries strong grapefruit notes, which is perfect for the flavors in this dish. Of course, Chardonnay is always an option. Looking for a bit of a dark horse? Try a Pinot Noir - which can help lift the halibut's flavors.
Storage & Leftovers
You can keep this in the fridge for a couple of days in an airtight container, but it's really a dish best served moment-of. Fish is notoriously difficult to reheat without completely over cooking it, so definitely do your best to make sure you eat it all when it's fresh!
Pan-Seared Halibut with Roasted Fennel and Grapefruit Salsa
- 4 halibut fillets
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1 grapefruit segmented and chopped
- ¼ C fresh basil chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chives
- Preheat your oven to 450°F.
- Slice the fennel into ¼" thick slices (until you have four of them). Lay them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until tender and golden. Remove from the oven, set aside.
- While the fennel is roasting, make your salsa. Segment and chop your grapefruit, add to a small bowl. Add the basil, olive oil, vinegar and chives. Season with salt and pepper, mix well. Set aside.
- Preheat your cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Once it's just starting to smoke add your oil. Pat the halibut dry with paper towel, season with salt and pepper, add to the pan. Once it's caramelized on one side (about 3-4 minutes), flip, and finish cooking (another 3-4 minutes). Check the internal temperature frequently. You're looking for 130°F-135°F.
- Plate: Lay once piece of fennel on each plate. Top with a halibut fillet, and a couple spoonful's of salsa. Drizzle some good olive oil on top for garnish. Serve immediately.