Ingredient of the Year 2010

With two eyes lolling on top of its head and mottled skin the colour of rotten lettuce, the Ingredient of the Year is hardly the most attractive specimen to emerge from our coastal waters. But it certainly is popular. From mid March to mid December, Hippoglossus stenolepis (or Pacific halibut, the largest of all flatfish—it can grow to up to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 600 pounds) is harvested off the shores of California, northward to the Bering Sea, and west into Russian and Japanese waters. It has a long history of successful management—protected by a quota system and tightly monitored (virtually all commercial boats are equipped with cameras), Canada’s Pacific commercial halibut fishery is often used as a model of successful fisheries management and industry co-operation. Which means our chefs, especially those wedded to sustainable products, can have some fun. Halibut’s dense, firm flesh pleases as much for its mild, clean taste as for its ability to marry with many flavours. Oft abused in a deep-fryer, it’s extraordinarily versatile in the right chef’s hands. Bake it, broil it, pan-fry it, braise it, pickle it—there are few cooking methods and ingredients that halibut can’t carry. At Jean-Georges’s Market, our judges noted, “it took a New Yorker to show off how good our halibut can be: precisely cooked to deliver moist but still flaky flesh, exquisitely complemented by the subtle soy and yuzu citrus and bonito broth, perked up with a tease of green chili.” At Tofino’s The Pointe at the Wickanninish Inn, our judges loved the halibut “bourguignon” with red wine jus and housemade bacon with mushrooms, spinach, and confit potato—riotously rich accompaniments for the fish. Both dishes are brilliant examples of how excellence and green-mindfulness in cooking need not be mutually exclusive.