How Duke Keeps His Focus on ‘Quality’ Halibut

Halibut is always a winner with seafood lovers, and it is personally one of my favorites. Healthy and delicious, this fish is one of the most versatile in the kitchen. But what makes a halibut truly top-quality?

Pacific Halibut is Quality Halibut

A beautiful halibut fillet can make anyone’s day!

About 80% of the North American halibut supply comes from Alaskan waters, with another 15% from British Columbia (BC). Pacific halibut is consistently the best in the world, for a few different reasons.

First of all, both Alaska and BC can boast extremely well-managed halibut fisheries. Boats fishing for halibut must use a long-line, which is essentially an extended fishing line with multiple baited hooks on it.

Pacific Halibut are world-renowned for their delicious meaty texture and subtle flavor. Fillets and steaks are a popular delicacy worldwide while halibut cheeks are especially sought-after. Few bones, a variety of cooking methods and compatibility with multiple flavors make it a hit with chefs, although properly cooking halibut requires some delicate culinary skills! Like salmon, it’s easy to overcook.

Fun Facts About Halibut:

• Nicknamed the ‘hippos of the sea’, Pacific Halibut can grow up to 8 feet long and over 500lbs! However, most commercially caught halibut is 20-200lbs.
• The record for biggest halibut is 578lbs!
• Only the females reach significant size. Males typically peak around 50lbs.
• Young halibut have two eyes on either side of their heads, but around 6 months old, one eye moves closer to its partner. With two eyes on one side, the halibut is now more like a flounder. Its skin then darkens on the side with eyes, camouflaging it from above, while the side with no eyes remains white, disguising it from predators on the ocean floor. Clever color scheme!

What does ‘fresh’ mean at Dukes?

At Duke’s, fresh actually means fresh! You can taste the difference.

Years ago, when I was first starting out in the restaurant business, I learned something that made my jaw drop. Seafood labeled as ‘fresh’ could be up to twenty-seven days old by the time it makes it to the consumer’s plate! There are no reputations that prevent this.

Like you probably are, I was in complete shock. But it’s true. Many restaurant owners have no idea where their seafood comes from. They don’t know how or where it was caught, how it was processed or even how it was transported to their kitchens! This is how you end up with ‘fresh’ three-week-old seafood on your plate.

I quickly decided that this wasn’t good enough for Duke’s Chowder House. Our seafood was going to be real fresh tasting. So I set out to develop a process, an ocean-to-table journey that allows my customers to know exactly how their fish ends up on their plate.

Fresh seafood has two major enemies: time and temperature. Consistently controlling those two elements is essential to locking in the delicious flavor of fresh-caught halibut, or any other kind of fish. And the only way to do that effectively is through the practice of ‘freezing at the source.’

Getting the fish frozen as soon as possible after it’s caught is the secret to retaining that fresh, clean and natural flavor that makes halibut so incredibly delicious. After decades of working closely with one another, my partners in Alaska and I have worked out a system of best practices to ensure that Duke’s Chowder House receives the highest-quality seafood.

Duke’s Halibut: The Journey

Our partners on the fishing boats of Alaska know exactly how to handle a fish destined for Duke’s.

Every piece of halibut that comes into a Duke’s kitchen has undergone the exact same treatment, right from the boat through processing to transport. Our halibut is as fresh as it gets because our fishermen all follow the same strict guidelines for handling once caught:

1. Bleed the fish immediately after capture and thoroughly.
2. Clean fish within one hour.
3. Ice or immerse in refrigerated seawater (RSW) immediately after bleeding and throughout time before delivery to a processing plant. Maximum temperature is 34 degrees F.
4. One to two-day-old fish only.
5. Segregate fish on board by day of catch to ensure only one/two-day-old fish.
6. Size 20-40 lbs.

When the fish reach the processing plant, the facility follows these steps precisely:

1. Accept only fish 34 degrees F maximum, clear eyes, firm flesh, skin bright.
2. Keep Duke’s fish segregated throughout processing.
3. Graded #1. No chalky (visual or taste) halibut accepted.
4. Keep fish iced prior to processing, maximum temperature 34 degrees F.
5. Fillet, deep-skin, completely bone free, vacuum pack and then freeze at 10 degrees below zero or colder at the processing plant.

Within forty-eight hours of being caught, our halibut have been bled, cleaned, filleted and vacuum-packed, then frozen to lock in that naturally fresh flavor.

Developing this process was not easy! It took dozens of trips to Alaska over the years, working with and learning from experienced fishermen and women. Building solid relationships with the people handling your food supply is crucial to ensuring that your customers receive the highest quality.

Our Partnership with Pacific Seafood

I’m a hands-on kind of guy, especially when sourcing the highest-quality seafood for my customers.

One of our most trusted providers of quality seafood is Pacific Seafood, who we’ve been dealing with for years. Our relationship, like all others, took time and effort to build.

When I first met Bob Simon from Pacific Seafood, years ago, I think he was a little taken aback. He told me that Pacific Seafood delivered the highest-quality seafood, and I wanted to believe him! But I’ve got a hankering to see things for myself, and so I told him I was going to have to go on a boat.

Now, Bob was unprepared for this. A tour of the processing plant, no problem. Shake hands with the fishermen, sure! But to go on a fishing boat in operation? In the industry, this is generally not allowed for safety reasons. However, Bob could see I was adamant. So he worked some magic, and eventually I was on fishing runs with a salmon boat, a halibut boat and a rockfish boat.

I didn’t stop there either. Next, I did a full tour of a couple processing facilities, meeting people and asking questions. I am proud to say that today, I know every processing plant that handles Duke’s fish, and I personally know the managers of those facilities.

Pacific Seafood and Duke’s Chowder House continue to build on our strong partnership, working together towards our common goals. We both envision a completely sustainable seafood industry, and aim to provide products that our customers can trace back to their source. Social responsibility is a major factor in both our businesses, weaving through our highest levels of decision-making and future strategies. Finally, we are both committed to providing our customers with the highest quality seafood available. I look forward to continuing to work with Pacific Seafood for many years to come.

Book a reservation at one of our six locations today for a taste of fresh Wild Halibut.

March 13, 2017