Sustainable Eating with The Whalesbone [BC Wild Halibut a la Puttanesca]

It’s seldom that you’ll find a slab of fish on your plate in my house.

Not because I don’t enjoy it, truly I do, but because finding sustainable, responsibly caught fish was a bit of a burdensome task in Ottawa for a while. As most sea-foodies concerned with the environmental impact of their choices know, it’s hard to keep up to date on what’s OK to eat, what’s on the red list, and what species to be wary of. That is, until The Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply House opened at 504-A Kent Street (corner of Catherine St) in late 2008. Since then, it’s become a mecca for seafood lovers who want to bring a little piece of Whalesbone home with them to share with friends and family. It’s comforting to know that when you walk through those doors, all the guess work is done for you - every species sold at the Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply House has been rigorously researched, thoughtfully chosen, and flown in with the utmost concern for our aquaculture. Whalesbone sources it’s species from the shores of Newfoundland to the British Colombia coast and a few places in between (including the outskirts of Ottawa, in Munster Hamlet)

When I received a tweet from The Whalesbone earlier this week sharing that they would be getting the first BC Wild Halibut of the year in on Thursday, I first cleaned up the drool puddle that formed on my keyboard, and secondly started thinking about what I wanted to do with that Halibut. There was absolutely no way I wasn’t getting my grubby little paws on some of that flaky, rich white fish action.

[Andrew butchering my dinner - pardon the quality, had I known what I was in for, I would have brought more than my blackberry]

I poked my head in the door late yesterday afternoon, to find Andrew and Brett happily working away. They both greeted me with big, welcoming smiles. I was told to ask for Andrew, so once we shook hands and were officially acquainted, we got down to business. “I’m here for your halibut” I said triumphantly, and before I could muster up another sentence, I was in the cooler room staring at a wild halibut about 4 1/2 feet long and 2 feet wide. Stunning. It had a belly the colour of freshly fallen snow, shiny soft scales and smelled of salty ocean water. Andrew hauled the massive fish onto the counter and got to work butchering it, right before my very eyes. When I say this fish was fresh, I mean it was FRESH. Flown in from BC yesterday morning, and on my plate by 6pm.

I decided to serve the beautiful halibut fillets over a simple, spicy Puttanesca sauce for myself and two of my very best friends. I think we were all in agreement that this dish absolutely screamed perfection. The fish seared up wonderfully, just a touch translucent in the center, and the sauce was the perfect compliment. The bossy tomato flavour didn’t overpower anything and I found the briny olives and capers really pumped up the flavour of the fish. We had some crusty bread on the side to sop up all the leftover sauce and any bits of fish that our forks may not have been able to find. Not one bite wasted. 

If you’re an Ottawa resident, I urge you to swing by the Sustainable Fish Shop the next time you have a hankering for some seafood (they also offer a stellar brown bag lunch…if you can manage to dig through the crowd before they eat everything!). You won’t be disappointed - I can guarantee you that.

BC Wild Halibut a la Puttanesca

If you prefer another species of white fish, please feel free to swap it out for that. But please, do your research and buy responsibly. 

4 Halibut fillets
olive oil
4 whole anchovy filets, packed in oil
3 tbsp caper berries
3 large cloves of garlic 
1 pint grape/cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2-3/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced thin
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup flat leaf (Italian) parsley, minced 
sea salt and fresh ground pepper 
fresh lemon juice, optional for garnish

In a large sauce pot over med heat, add a couple glugs of olive oil. Once hot, add the anchovy fillets and let them sizzle and melt away. Add the garlic and let it cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Throw in the capers, tomatoes, olives and white wine. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer away until reduce slightly, 10 minutes. 


While sauce is reducing, heat your best non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a glug of canola/veg oil. Once the oil is sputtering, add the fillets, skin side down, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a fish spatula (don’t use tongs!!), carefully flip the fish and cook for another 3 minutes. It should be opaque on the outside and slightly translucent in the center. 

Remove the Puttanesca sauce from the stove top and stir-in the parsley. Serve the fish atop a large spoonful of the sauce or top with the sauce. Sprinkle with a little more parsley and a squeeze of lemon. 

My girlfriend Amanda brought over an Oregon Pinot Gris to pair with the dish and it was lovely.