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September 2000 Issue
Halibut Cheeks and King Crab Legs
by Philip R. Gantt
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Welcome to Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair!

Having returned from a vacation in Alaska, I'm ready to go back again for some more fishing. So, I've already planned a trip with some friends from work during the second weekend of September to fish for silver salmon. It should be a lot of fun, and I'm sure we will each manage to bring back 20 lbs. or more of fresh salmon fillets.

As fate would have it, my youngest daughter Jennifer caught the largest fish of the most recent trip, a 48 lb. King Salmon from the Kenai River. At least I got to help her land the behemoth!

During this vacation with three of my children, three of us managed to catch limits of halibut up to 43 lbs. My daughter, Crystal, caught the largest. What most people fail to realize is that there is a succulent chunk of meat in the head. These chunks of meat are called halibut cheeks. Most fish processors ignore this part of the fish and it ends up being wasted unless you ask for the cheeks to be removed. The cheeks command a higher price in the markets of Alaska.

I think that a certain respect for life is gained when one eats the animal that one kills for food. Here is a picture of my son Greg and Daughter Crystal with their catch of halibut from Cook Inlet. Between the three of us, we managed to bring home over 100 lbs. of fresh frozen halibut.

For those who may not have tried it, halibut is an excellent eating fish. It is mild in flavor, and this allows for halibut to be cooked in a variety of styles. In Alaska, halibut tacos are very popular. I did not have an opportunity to try one, but in the weeks to come, I'm sure that I will try this and many other recipes using halibut. I'll be sure to share the better recipes with my readers.

As a final word of caution, don't eat fresh halibut as sushi! Although it may taste great, there is a high probability that the fish has parasitic worms that can be transferred to humans. The fish must be frozen below 0 degrees for 48 hours to rid the flesh of these parasites. This is true of any fish that you might consider eating raw, including salmon.

Before leaving for home, I purchased several pounds of King Crab legs to bring home. I learned from the fish processor that these legs are imported from Russia. Due to declining populations, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has instituted commercial and sport closures to the take of Alaskan King Crab as well as several other species of crab and shrimp. These closures are likely to remain in effect for several years until the populations once again grow to harvestable levels. Hopefully, these closures will have the desired effect. It would be a sad loss if humans were to over harvest these species to the point of extinction. Hopefully, too, Fish and Game will regulate the take of these species to prevent such problems in the future.

The recipes presented this month are from my yet to be published cookbook, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests.

Now, on to the recipes!

 

Halibut Cheeks

The cheeks are of a different texture than the rest of the halibut. Some people liken them to scallops, probably because they are similar in shape. Halibut cheeks are a little more dense than the rest of the fish, yet every bit as flavorful. I choose to bread them in corn meal and fry them in oil while we were staying at the cabin on the Kenai Peninsula.
  • 1 dozen halibut cheeks
  • 2 cups corn meal, seasoned (see recipe)
  • oil for frying
I like to season the corn meal with celery salt, parsley flakes, ground pepper and seasoned salt. However, unseasoned corn meal can be used successfully as well. I put this mixture into a large zip lock bag for storage and reuse.

Simply take the halibut cheeks, drop them into the bag of corn meal mix, and shake until they are well coated with corn meal. You can also do this with halibut steaks or fillets. Heat the oil over high heat in a skillet and carefully place the cheeks into the hot oil to prevent splashing. Fry on each side until the breading becomes slightly crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and garnish with parsley. For a variation, you can also serve these "nuggets" with malt vinegar.

Enjoy!

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes
 

 

King Crab Legs

King crab is undoubtedly the meatiest crab you can buy. It also has a very fine flavor and is quite suitable for special occasions. The legs that you see in the picture were larger than what I usually find in California. These particular legs were over an inch wide and very good tasting. Each leg weighed about 1 lb.

It was rather amusing that when I was in Alaska purchasing the king crab legs, one of the other customers asked me how to prepare them. I told him that I simply put them in the microwave to heat them up and serve them with lemon and melted butter. He seemed surprised that I would microwave such an expensive piece of seafood ($18 per lb.!). However, the owner of Kasilof Seafoods laughed and said that he does the same thing! Following the rule that simple is best, here is my recipe for quick King Crab Legs.

  • 2 whole king crab legs
  • 1 lemon, sliced into wedges
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
Do NOT thaw the legs before preparing. The king crab you find in the market is always frozen and pre-cooked. This makes preparation very easy. If the legs you find are partially thawed, use them immediately. I simply rinse the legs with cold water, break the legs at the joints so they fit into the microwave, and heat them on high for about 6 to 8 minutes for 2 legs, longer if necessary. If you don't have a microwave, or if one is not handy, simply steam the legs on a steamer rack for about 10 minutes, just as you would vegetables. You can expect that water will be released from the crab while cooking it in the microwave, so make sure to not spill the hot water and burn yourself.

I usually put the butter into a small bowl and put it into the microwave with the crab about 1 minute before the crab is done. This way I don't have to wait for the butter to melt and I can serve it warm with the crab. Also, I usually squeeze a little lemon juice from one of the wedges into the butter before heating. After the butter is melted, I garnish the butter with the chopped parsley for flavor. As a variation, garlic lovers can add a little chopped garlic to the butter before melting.

Being that the crab meat is inside of the shell, you can serve the legs with a nutcracker or some similar tool to facilitate the removal of the meat. Or, you can make it easier if you remove the legs from cooking before they are hot, but not still frozen, and use a cleaver or kitchen scissors to cut the shells lengthwise. The shells are actually not very hard, and can be easily cut. Other types of crab can be prepared and served in the same manner.

Enjoy!

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 12 minutes
 

Editor's Note: For those of you interested in reading, seeing and hearing more about Phil's Alaskan adventures, please visit http://www.geocities.com/pgantt/index.html. The site includes a chronicle of the trip as well as photos and short video clips of key fishing and site-seeing moments.



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