Halibut Cheeks Poached in White Wine and Shallots: A Fast, Enticing, and Unusual Summer Feast

Do you ever feel a bit odd eating animals’ various body parts?  Pork belly, “prairie oysters” (Google it or contact me, if you really want to know…), or halibut cheeks make me visualize those particular bits of the anatomy.

In the case of halibut cheeks, I can picture a big halibut swimming with its cheeks all puffed out, as if it were about to blow out candles on a birthday cake.  I am pretty sure that halibut usually do not have birthday cakes, with or without candles. The frosting would get all wet in the ocean…and how would the candles manage to stay lit?

Regardless of halibutian (halibutty? halibuttery? can there be no adjectival form of “halibut’?) birthday celebrations, I find fish cheeks most intriguing.  The consistency is not the firm, rich flake of a halibut fillet but rather is somewhere between a sea scallop and a chicken thigh – meatier, a bit roapy (not in a bad way, however), and much more substantial.

Gratuitous kitty and wildlife interlude:

What could Jinja be watching now?

That is no flying halibut in the nasturtiums...

it is a ruffous hummingbird (no hummingbirds were harmed in creating this post, just one halibut).

For the inspiration and the recipe…

Pacific halibut cheeks with island-grown potatoes and green peas - and parsley and chives from our deck's garden - make for a feast for for a locavore (just ignore the lemon).

We have a fishing boat which visits our island Saturday mornings from much bigger Salt Spring Island (it is relative – 10,000 people live over there, year-round). I always enjoy buying their salmon, dungeness crab, scallops, arctic char, and halibut. However, I had not recalled seeing halibut cheeks and decided to buy them. (For another preparation for halibut cheeks, visit my friend and neighbour’s excellent blog, Real Food From a Small Island, for her elegant classic preparation – en papillote – in parchment.) The friendly man and woman on the boat said that they are meatier than halibut and saute quickly.

So, with the halibut cheeks before me, I decided to use a French white wine shallot poach-saute technique. With a local British Columbia pinot gris and shallots from nearby Vancouver Island, I thought I could try another 100-mile diet-sort-of-meal – except for the lemon (I have yet to procure any of our neighbour’s lemons from his green house) and black pepper, it was very local, indeed, with parsley and chives from our deck-top garden, and potatoes and green peas from “up island”, as we say here (two growers who live “far” up north, about 20 minutes away).

So, if you do come across halibut cheeks, this is a fast, easy, and delightful summer meal…as long as you try not to imagine the halibut on its birthday.

Halibut Cheeks Poached in White Wine with Shallots, my creation, more or less, based on memories of previous poaching
Serves two


8 ounces or 200 grams halibut cheeks
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, finely minced
1/2 cup dry white wine (BC pinot gris worked very well)
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
Black pepper and sea salt, to taste

1. On medium-high heat, add olive and butter to saute pan.
2. When melted, add minced shallots and saute for a few minutes until soft and fragrant.
3. Add white wine and halibut cheeks.
4. Saute, moving cheeks (the halibut’s that is) constantly for four or five minutes, just until the cheeks have a slightly firmer consistency, like a lightly poached chicken breast – it should be tender and firm but not tough and roapy.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve with chopped chives sprinkled all over.

9 responses to “Halibut Cheeks Poached in White Wine and Shallots: A Fast, Enticing, and Unusual Summer Feast

  1. Mhm, yummy! I love eating all the “weird bits” – cheeks, belly, offal… you name it, I eat it. This looks totally delicious and right up my alley!

    Jax x

  2. Looks delectable and I’m hungry. Thanks for the visual of the halibut blowing out candles. Always a sucker for a good fish joke and a great fish recipe!

  3. It looks delicious, Dan! When I eat halibut cheeks I’m always reminded of a fantastic Japanese chef at an izakaya where I used to work in Vancouver. Her English was rudimentary and when she passed the halibut to a customer at the bar she used to say, “Here are your hairy butt cheeks.”

  4. Hi, Lynn. Thanks for that line, which I will associate with halibut from now on. But you’re sure that you were at the restaurant rather than a leather bar? Dan

  5. I do not want to know what prairie oysters are.

    But this post is inspiring me to make my first trip to D.C.’s fishmarket. I’ve looked down on the open-air stalls as I drive on the highway nearby, but have never actually parked or bought a pound of scallops there. Wonder if they’d have halibut cheeks…?

    • Hi, Maddie. You’re right about not wanting to know what those oysters are….

      I hope you can get halibut in D.C. Perhaps the halibut have taken deep breaths and flown from all the way from the Pacific to your neck of the woods.



  6. Hey Dan, your’e funny! I try my best not to think about the parts of an animal when I do eat meat (smile). But I think I’ve let my mind wander that way before for sure…
    This sounds wonderful. I love any fish done ‘en papillote’ with wine and herbs-so nice. My Mom’s coming today, so I might follow your lead here and make whatever fish I can get freshest this way. She would love that…!

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