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Recipe: Capriccio of smoked Gigha halibut

Smoked Giga halibut capraccio.
Smoked halibut is the star.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. It can bring together individuals and organisations that share common interests, but which might never normally meet. I have Twitter to thank for discovering Gigha Halibut – the Scottish company that farms halibut as sustainably as possible (see my previous post for more information on what they do so well). So, after a conversation via the ‘twitter-sphere’, I was delighted when I was offered some smoked Gigha Halibut to try.

Last Friday was filled with excitement and anticipation as I opened the package of smoked halibut, that had been dispatched the day before, from one of our smallest inhabited Hebridean islands. The enticing cream and golden-edged slices presented me with a dilemma, however. How exactly was I going to serve them?

Halibut is one of my favourite fishes to eat, but never before have I encountered it smoked. My first thought was to produce a posh take on kedgeree. Yet upon tasting a corner of a slice, it became obvious that these fish portions were too subtly delicious for that. The flesh was pearly, glistening and sweet – almost with a flavour reminiscent of scallops. It carried a beautiful subtly smoky accent, like a really good whisky. Hardly surprising given that the fish are smoked with chips made from the oak barrels sourced from Islay’s Kilchoman distillery.

Smoked Giga halibut capraccio.
Really tasty fish.

I had to use this exquisite seafood in a way that really showed it off. So I decided to prepare a smoked halibut capriccio, adding just a few seasonal vegetables to compliment the flavour of the smoked fish, and adorning it simply, with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. Radish and watercress provide a little fresh heat; baby beetroot, sweet richness; and the tomatoes subtle acidity. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist gilding the lily, by adding a few teaspoons of lumpfish roe for its salty taste and visual effect.

So what would be the bottom line? The dish was delicious, and that had very little to do with my concoction or preparation. This left me with a dilemma as whether to keep the fantastic Gigha smoked halibut my little secret, or share its brilliance with the rest of you. It was a close call…

This dish will serve four as a light lunch or starter, or two greedy boys/girls as a main (with bread and butter).


  • 200g of Smoked Gigha Halibut
  • A good handful of watercress
  • 3-4 radishes, finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one, but watch your fingers!)
  • 3-4 young beetroot finely sliced (precooked organic is fine, but make sure they contain no vinegar)
  • 8-10 cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
  • Dill shoots, to garnish
  • Lumpfish roe to garnish (optional)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and white pepper, to season


  1. Remove the halibut from its packaging and place on a large plate or shallow dish. Pour over the lemon juice, so it covers the fish and leave for a couple of minutes. The fish will have been cooked by being smoked, but by marinating it in the lemon juice it will provide an element of ‘ceviche’.
  2. Pour off the lemon juice into a glass beaker and set aside. It will have taken up the smoky flavour of the fish.
  3. Finely slice the radishes and beetroot, and halve the tomatoes.
  4. Place the watercress on a clean large plate or shallow dish.
  5. Arrange the fish on top of the watercress and then place the vegetables on top of the halibut slices.
  6. Garnish with the dill and roe – if using.
  7. Add twice the amount of olive oil to the reserved lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and whisk to create a light vinaigrette. Pour over the dish, and serve.
aquaculture/ environment/ fish farming/ Gigha/ halibut/ salmon/ Scottish/ Sustainable

Sustainable food news: Farmed Scottish halibut and salmon – two very different kettles of fish

Farmed Gigha halibut.
Beautiful halibut.

I adore seafood. Nothing unusual with that, you might think, many people do. However, I was brought up in the very north of Birmingham – effectively as far from the sea as it’s possible to be, in the UK. Despite being fabled to have more miles of canals than Venice, Birmingham is well and truly land locked. Yet somewhat surprisingly, “Brum” has a terrific fish market – or at least it did when I was a youngster. A sizeable section of the old Bull Ring market hall was dedicated to an impressive range of fish stalls stocking a myriad of seafood, shipped overnight from the ports where these had been landed.

I think my regular visits to the fish market had a subconscious influence upon my choosing to study marine biology at university. And although I no longer work in that particular field, I’m still fascinated by all things marine-related, especially when these also involve food. So I was naturally intrigued when I discovered that there was a Scottish company farming and smoking one of my favourite fishes, halibut.

Fish farming is nothing new, of course. Globally, aquaculture (to give fish farming its Sunday name) is increasingly significant, accounting for 64 million tonnes of the 131 million tonnes of fish and shellfish consumed around the world in 2011. And aquaculture – and salmon farming in particular – is now big business in Scotland. Of the nearly 170,000 tonnes of finfish farmed in the UK in 2010, over 154,000 tonnes of this was salmon farmed in Scotland.

It may surprise you to learn that I tend not to cook or eat Scottish farmed salmon. This is because I believe that the way the majority of salmon is currently farmed in Scotland simply isn’t environmentally sustainable, for many reasons. The fish are reared in high densities in cages mostly sighted in sheltered sea lochs. The waste these produce can smother the seabed, impacting the plants and animals naturally occurring there. Because the fish are effectively factory farmed, they are highly susceptible to diseases and parasites, resulting in the chemicals used to treat these also contaminating the environment. What’s more, significant escapes of farmed salmon are not uncommon, and these can impact wild salmon stocks through interbreeding and disease and parasite transmission. And then there is the issue of catching industrial quantities of small, South American fish to turn into feed for salmon farms. Certainly the salmon farming industry seems keen to address these substantial environmental issues, but until it does this effectively, it’s hardly surprising that Scottish farmed salmon remains off my menu.

Yet not all fish farming exacts a high price on the marine environment, which is why I was so interested to try the halibut farmed on the Hebridean island of Gigha. In the wild – the waters of the Atlantic – stocks of Atlantic halibut are dangerously low. Yet the fish is so good to eat, it remains very much in demand. This has resulted in the establishment of Gigha Halibut, a company with an approach to fish farming that appears to be (nautical) miles away from much of Scotland’s salmon farming industry.

Calm Gigha seas.
Calm Gigha seas.

Firstly, the fish the farm produces are both organic and grown in large tanks on land, as opposed to cages floating in the sea. Flatfish, such as halibut and turbot, are ideally suited to being raised in large, flat tanks that are continually circulated with clean seawater pumped from nearby shores. This means there is practically no risk of fish escaping to the wild. Secondly, the fish are grown in comparatively low densities. As Guardian journalist, Alex Renton, found out this helps to keep them effectively disease free, negating the need to use chemicals or medicines. Thirdly all Gigha halibut are fed with a certified organic diet using 100% fish trimmings as a source of protein and organic vegetable products as a source of carbohydrate. There feed does not rely on industrial fisheries undertaken on the other side of the globe to produce fish meal.

The overall result of this approach to fish husbandry is that Gigha Halibut produces an excellent, sustainable, product. Certainly, the way the halibut is farmed, and the relatively small scale of production, means it will never be on sale for the bargain bucket price that industrially farmed Scottish salmon currently fetches. But for me – and for leading chefs such as Alain Roux, and Michael Smith from Skye’s The Three Chimneys – such is the taste and quality of Gigha Halibut’s fish, it deserves its status as a premiere product.

To discover exactly how good Gigha Halibut’s product is, be sure to check out my next recipe post, which is a capriccio featuring of their fantastic smoked fish.

Photographs courtesy of the Gigha Halibut website.

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