Ultra crispy on the outside and tender and flaky on the inside, our Pan-Seared Halibut is an easy, impressive dinner that can be served any night of the week. We top the hot fish with a quick sun-dried tomato butter that slowly melts into the fish resulting in a flavor “sauce” with virtually no effort.
Pan-Sear Halibut with Sun-Dried Tomato Butter
Let’s throw on a fancy outfit, break out our best bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and settle in for a restaurant-style meal enjoyed right from the comfort of our own home. Ultra crispy on on top, moist and tender on the inside, and smothered in an easy sun-dried tomato butter, our Pan-Seared Halibut is going to make you feel like a five-star cook, though we know that’s far from reality.
While we adore the more commonly cooked and easy-to-find salmon (our Coconut Curry Salmon and Broiled Salmon with Burst Cherry Tomatoes will forever be in our meal planning), now is the time to give Halibut – one of our favorite flaky white fishes -a try. Because if you weren’t aware, there is actually a season for halibut and it’s right now. I’ve seen it pop up on some of my favorite local restaurants’ menus and now I’m even seeing it make an appearance at my local grocery store.
Like virtually all fish, halibut is quick-cooking so it’s something you can cook any night of the week, although we’re partial to serving it on the weekend since it does feel a little more upscale.
Because we wanted the halibut to shine, we simply sear it in a little bit of olive oil, then baste it in butter that eventually turns brown and nutty.
To serve, we dollop it with a quick sun-dried tomato butter (you’ll want to slather this on everything from garlic bread to grilled chicken) that starts to melt immediately upon contact with the hot halibut. As the butter melts, it slowly starts to flavor the fish leaving bits of sun-dried tomato and flecks of lemon zest on top and down the sides.
Pan-Seared halibut is sweet, salty, full of texture, and ready and waiting for your dinner table.
What is halibut?
Halibut is a flat fish in the flounder family, and found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. It’s a very mild, sweet fish, similar in taste to tilapia, but a little thicker and firmer in texture. I find it to be a bit more substantial than tilapia or a classic flounder, and it’s one of my very favorite varieties of fish.
You’ll find most species of halibut come from the pacific ocean and California waters because the Atlantic halibut is wildly overfished and not as sustainable.
When is halibut available?
While halibut can be found all year round, as mentioned before, it’s most abundant May through September.
Should you cook halibut with the skin on?
I personally find the skin of halibut to be a little too tough to eat, however I do still like to keep the skin on while cooking to ensure it stays nice and moist. If you want both the bottom and the top of the halibut to get nice and crispy, I’d recommend removing the skin before cooking. Otherwise, it will easily slide off after cooking.
Ingredient in Pan-Seared Halibut
Sun-dried tomatoes. We like to use sun-dried tomatoes that aren’t packed in oil for our pan-seared halibut. You will need to plump them up in a bit of hot water. If you happen to have sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, that’s fine, just pat off any excess oil before chopping them.
Lemon zest. We use a microplane to get just the zest off of about a half a lemon. It was about two teaspoons. If you want an punch of acid or extra lemon flavor, you could also add in a few teaspoons of the juice.
Butter. We use butter two ways, first in the compound sun-dried tomato butter and second to baste the halibut while cooking.
You want to use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt that goes into it.
Also, make sure you set your butter out prior, it will need to be at room temperature to properly blend with the other ingredients.
Salt. Because we use unsalted butter, you’ll need to add your own seasoning. We start with 1/4 teaspoon and then add more if necessary. I always veer on the side of more salt.
Olive oil. Even though we finish cooking the halibut with butter, olive oil has a higher smoke point and sears the fish a little bit better so we start with that. You’ll just need enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Halibut. Again as we mentioned before, you shouldn’t have a problem finding halibut right now. Look for Pacific or California halibut, as Atlantic halibut is currently overfished and not sustainable. We like about six ounces per person, but you can get away with less.
Let’s make dinner!
Make the sun-dried tomato butter.
- Add the tomatoes to a food processor and pulse until they’re almost the consistency of a paste. You can also do this with a knife, but the texture won’t be as fine.
- Add lemon zest, salt, and butter. Blend until smooth.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer to a piece of plastic and roll back into a log of butter. Chill in the fridge while you sear the halibut.
Pan-sear the halibut
Heat a large cast-iron skillet to a medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. While the skillet heat, if desired, remove the skin with a very sharp knife.
Sear the fish. Add the fish to the pan skin-side up (if there is skin on your fish). Don’t move it! Let the halibut sear for 3-4 minutes until you see the bottom turn golden brown and crisp. Flip over and sear generously with salt and a little bit of freshly cracked black pepper.
Add the butter. Immediately upon flipping the fish over, add the butter to the bottom of the pan. Tilt the pan and spoon the melted butter on top of the halibut. After a minute, add 1/4 of the tomato butter on top of the fish. Keep spooning the melted butter on top and around the fish. Do this for another 1-2 minutes until the fish is cooked through.
Serve! Transfer the halibut to your serving platter or dish. Spoon the butter that’s left in the pan on and around the fish.
What to serve with pan-seared halibut
- We serve it with a simple Acini di Pepe (recipe listed below) dressed with just a hint of lemon juice and olive oil and studded with extra sun-dried tomatoes and basil.
- Pan-seared halibut would be lovely served with our Creamy Dreamy Mashed Potatoes or Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes or Pesto Mashed Potatoes.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Make sure your fish smells fresh, it should not smell overly “fishy.”
- Make sure the halibut it very dry. For it to properly sear, you need to blot both sides with paper towels.
- Season well! Don’t be shy with the salt. Season both sides generously with salt.
- Add in a small raw garlic clove to the sun-dried tomato butter or a few roasted garlic cloves.
- Add a few sprigs of thyme to the pan while you cook the halibut. This will flavor the fish even more as you cook it.
Tool we used in today’s post
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature and divided
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the fish
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
- 4 6 oz filets halibut
Acini di Pepe
- 1 cup Acini di Pepe (you can also use israeli, barley, or orzo)
- 1 cup basil, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Mini Food Proccessor
- Cast iron skillet
- Remove the fish from the fridge while you prepare the butter. Add tomatoes to a bowl with very hot water (all of them if you are makine the pasta). Let them sit for five minutes to plump up. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Add the tomatoes to a food processor and pulse until they’re almost the consistency of a paste. You can also do this with a knife, but the texture won’t be as fine. Add lemon zest, salt, and 1/4 cup of the butter. Blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a piece of plastic and roll back into a log of butter. Chill in the fridge while you sear the halibut.
- Heat a large cast-iron skillet to a medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan.
- While pan heats, use a very sharp knife to remove the skin if you'd like. (We leave it on to keep the fish moist, but both sides will not get crispy.) Pat the halibut dry with paper towels. Season both sides generously with salt. (Only season right before you lay the fish in the pan, otherwise the salt will bring more moisture to the top of the fish and it won't sear properly.)
- Add the fish to the pan (skin side up if there is skin on your fish). Don’t move it! Let the halibut sear for about 4 minutes until you see the bottom turn golden brown and crisp. Flip over and sear on the other side.
- Immediately upon flipping the fish over, add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the bottom of the pan. Tilt the pan and spoon the melted butter on top of the halibut. After a minute, add 1/4 of the tomato butter on top of each filet of fish. Keep spooning the melted butter on top and around the fish. Do this for another 1-2 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Be careful you don't overcook, halibut will become tough and mushy if it's overcooked. Transfer the halibut to your serving platter or dish. Spoon the butter that’s left in the pan on and around the fish.
Acini di Pepe
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Season with salt. Add the pasta. Cook until aldente. Drain. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.