This Pan Seared Halibut with Kentucky Bourbon is Date Night at its best! It features delicious, meaty halibut drizzled with a quick bourbon sauce, served over a bed of wilted spinach.
About a month ago, as the hot and muggy late summer days began to slowly cool off, and the leaves were just beginning to shyly show hints of faint red and yellow, the husband and I took an end-of-summer drive to Bourbon Country.
We had lunch at my favorite Korean restaurant in Lexington, and then meandered over to the Wild Turkey distillery. As we waited for our tour, I flipped through a few of their gift shop cookbooks, and smiled at all the ways there are to cook with bourbon.
One of my favorite things to do with bourbon is to add it to a hot honey sauce, and then pour it all over fish. Why is it a favorite? For starters, it’s both fast and easy. (That would be a WIN and a WIN.) Also, it feels so incredibly fancy! This Pan Seared Halibut with Kentucky Bourbon is perfect for Date Night, and comes together in minutes.
Cooking with Halibut
Halibut is, quite possibly, the most luxurious white fish, with thick, meaty fillets that are perfect for luscious sauces. If you’ve never cooked with halibut, here’s what to expect.
Halibut fillets are white and firm, and have a light, sweet flavor. Halibut is delicious and flaky, but it has a tendency to dry out if you overcook it. To help keep it moist, make sure to add a little fat to the pan (I use butter), and keep an eye on the cooking time.
If you’re new to halibut, expect for it to cost less than lobster or scallops, but a little more than thin fillets like tilapia. I like to use these luscious fillets on special occasions (like Date Night!), and I want to be absolutely positive that my money is buying high-quality seafood.
I want halibut with perfect texture, and with enough flavor to compliment a strong sauce, without being hidden by the added flavors. That’s why I buy my halibut from Orca Bay, my favorite (and reliable) seafood supplier!
Order Orca Bay Online: Use my Ambassador Code: champagnetastes for 15% off!
Find Orca Bay locally: Use their store finder.
Cooking with Bourbon and Halibut
To make this Kentucky Bourbon Pan Seared Halibut, start by patting the (thawed) halibut dry, and setting it aside. You want it to come to room temperature before you set it in the pan to sear.
Next, you’re going to make a fancy-schmancy sauce. (You can call it a “gastrique” if you want to sound impressive). Start by pouring a little bourbon and some balsamic vinegar together, and keep the mixture within arm’s reach of the stovetop.
Add honey to a small saucepan, and heat it over medium heat until it starts to bubble, and then stir it with a wooden spoon for a few more minutes until it darkens to an amber color.
Then, stand back from the pan to avoid splashback, and carefully pour in the bourbon and balsamic. Stir, stir, stir! Let the sauce cook for another minute or two, and then take it off the heat and cover the pan. (Make sure not to walk away at all while you’re making the sauce– it needs your complete attention!)
Next, heat a heavy-bottomed to medium-high heat, and heat up a little butter and olive oil. (You can use all butter or all olive oil if you prefer, but I think they work well combined here!) Set the halibut fillets into the pan, and don’t touch them! Let them sear for four minutes, and then flip them. Add a little butter to the top of each fillet, and sear them for four more minutes.
Finally, take the fish out of the pan, turn the heat to medium, and add a few big handfuls of spinach to the pan. Toss the spinach for about 30 seconds, and then pull it out.
Serve the halibut on a bed of spinach, and drizzle the bourbon sauce over the fish and spinach right before serving. Enjoy this bourbon-licious fish dinner right away, and then start planning a trip to Bourbon Country!
Tips for Searing Fish
- If possible, let the fish come to room temperature before searing. Remove fish from the fridge about 20 minutes before you need to cook it, or at the very least take it out of the fridge before you start prepping all your ingredients.
- Dry the fish thoroughly– wet fish will stick to the pan.
- If your fish sticks when you try to flip it, wait and let it cook a little longer.
- If your fillets have skin, set them in the pan skin-side down. Don’t touch the fish until it’s time to flip– nudging it in the pan will cause the fish to tear.
Pan Seared Halibut with Kentucky Bourbon
Date Night Seafood Dinner
- 2 halibut fillets (~ 4oz each)
- 2 TB butter, divided
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup honey OR sorghum syrup
- 4 oz fresh spinach
Pat halibut dry, and then pat it dry again. Allow it to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, pour balsamic vinegar and bourbon together and set aside. Keep the balsamic-bourbon mixture within arm's reach, so that you can grab it quickly when the honey is ready.
Pour honey into a small, heavy bottom pot and turn heat to medium. In about 1-2 minutes, the honey should start to bubble. Stir it with a wooden spoon until the honey darkens in color and turns amber (about 3 more minutes). (*Note- The caramelizing honey will be EXTREMELY hot. Do not touch it or attempt to taste it at this point.)
Carefully, standing back from the pot in case of splash-back, pour the balsamic and bourbon mixture into the pot with the honey. Stir, and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Take sauce off the heat, and set aside. (*Note- If the sauce cools and thickens too much while the fish is cooking, simply set it back on the heat for about a minute, or until it heats up again.)
Heat 1 TB butter and all of the olive oil in a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat.
Salt both sides of the halibut.
Set halibut in hot pan, and DO NOT TOUCH IT. Set a timer for 4 minutes, and don't touch the halibut until the timer goes off. (If your butter smokes a little, lower the heat slightly.)
Next, use a thin metal spatula to flip the halibut. If it sticks to the pan, wait another 30 seconds. The fish will release when it's done cooking.
Divide the remaining butter and set it on top of the two halibut fillets, allowing it to melt as the fish cooks. Sear them for 4 more minutes, and then remove halibut from the pan. Set fish to the side, and cover to keep warm.
Lower heat to medium. Add fresh spinach to the hot pan, and toss for about 30 seconds, or until it begins to wilt. Transfer spinach to plates, and top with the fish.
Serve spinach and fish immediately with bourbon sauce.
Fish Substitute: Can't find halibut? You can substitute another mild, white meaty fish such as cod.