a.k.a.: Awabi (Japan), muttonfish (Australia), ormer (English Channel), paua (New Zealand)
Waters:Pacific coasts (California to Chile), Indo-Pacific coasts (Asia, Japan, Africa), English Channel, Mediterranean Sea
Description (in water): A large, ear-shaped univalve mollusk with iridescent shell protecting body and foothlike adductor muscle with which it moves and cling to rocks. Abalone ranges from 6 inches to 1 foot in length and weighs from 4 to 8 lbs.
Description (in market): Only the adductor muscle is edible. The mild, sweet-flavored white meat must be tenderized to soften the naturally tough, rubbery texture.
Sold as: Fresh steaks; frozen steaks (from Mexico); canned, either minced or cubed (from Japan); dried; salted; dried and shredded (called kaiho; from Japan); dried and powdered (called meiho; from Japan)
Best cooking: It is essential to gently tenderize the meat by with a rolling pin or mallet. Abalone can be eaten raw, cubed or cut into strips and prepared as a salad. It is often briefly sautéed in butter (20 to 30 seconds per side), or seasoned and lightly coated with flour and egg and pan-fried. Try to avoid overcooking, which toughens the meat.
Buying tips: Abalone is best purchased alive, with an adductor muscle that moves when touched. Choose small specimens that smell sweet rather than fishy. Refrigerate as soon as possible after purchase; cook within 24 hours.
Notes: California law prohibits canning and out-of-state shipping of fresh or frozen abalone. Preyed upon by sea otters, large Pacific abalone are becoming scarce.
The iridescent shell of the abalone is a source of mother-of-pearl. The meat is very popular in Chinese and Japanese cooking. It is often prepared raw as sushi or sashimi.
a.k.a.: Sardine, whitebait (these are different kinds of fish yet are often sold interchangeably with anchovies)
Waters:Mediterranean and Southern European coasts are home to so-called "true anchovy." Other species harvested along Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
Description (in water): Small bright-silver fish that swim in schools.
Description (in market): Anchovies have white, off-white or grayish flesh with a smooth, fatty texture and rich flavor. After curing, the flesh turns deep red.
Sold as: Anchovies are most familiar to Americans in canned form, filleted and often salt-cured and packed in oil. However, they are also available fresh whole (beheaded) or in fillets (flattened and rolled). They are often salted, smoked and dried, or made into butters, creams, pastes, and spreads.
Best cooking: Fresh fillets grill nicely. Before serving canned fillets or adding them to recipes, rinse them well under cold running water. To further insure against saltiness, soak in cool water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry. Anchovies are often used in dressings, as garnishes, or in sauces for fish or pasta.
Buying/storing tips: Try to find unbruised specimens (the delicate flesh bruises easily) that don't smell too strong (the older the fish, the stronger the smell). Keep them well iced before cooking. Unopened, canned anchovies can be shelved for up to a year; after opening, seal tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 months.
Substitutes: Sardines, smelts, whitebait
Notes: Popular in French cuisine, anchovies are a main ingredient in poutine, a fermented condiment, and in pissaladiére, a fish and onion pie. Anchovies are also popular in Southeast Asian cooking and are used as a base for Thai fish sauce
a.k.a.: California or Pacific barracuda (most common in markets), Atlantic or great barracuda, sea pike, scoots
Waters:Warm regions of Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico
Description (in water): Large, dark gray (?) warmwater fish; Pacific barracuda rarely exceed 12 lbs, while the Atlantic variety can weigh over 100 pounds.
Description (in market): Only smaller Pacific-harvested fish (4 to 8 lbs.) appear in the market, as some of the larger barracuda (especially the Atlantic or great barracuda) have been associated with ciguatera poisoning. Pacific (or California) barracuda are considered safe and delicious, with firm-textured, full-flavored meat of moderate fat content.
Sold as: Fresh and whole (beheaded and dressed) in California markets; fillets and steaks. It is also sold smoked or canned. Barracuda is popular main ingredient in fish cakes.
Best cooking: Fillets and steaks grill and oven-broil nicely, and they hold their shape well. Barbecuing (basting with a full flavored sauce) is also popular.
Buying/storing tips: Make sure the meat is well iced and smells sweet and fresh. Since it spoils quickly; keep barracuda iced until cooking.
Be aware that flesh of the Atlantic or great barracuda may be toxic; in the U.S., avoid eating barracuda that is not caught, sold and prepared on the West Coast.
Substitutes: Bluefish, mackerel, mahi mahi, wahoo
Notes: On the U.S. West Coast, barracuda is in season from the beginning of April until late September, at peak in the summer months.
a.k.a.: Chinese steelhead, black trout, black ruff, tautog, black porgy, oysterfish, chowderfish
Waters:Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to South Carolina; Pacific Ocean
Description (in water): Color ranges from dull to dark gray or green with darker blotches on the sides of its plump body. It also has thick, puffy lips, and can grow to weigh from 3 to 25 lbs.
Description (in market): Store-bought specimens range from 3 to 5 lbs. The mottled, off-white flesh is meaty yet lean, firm-textured, and mildly flavorful.
Be aware: A network of tiny fine bones runs through the meat.
Sold as: Whole fish, fillets, steaks
Best cooking: Blackfish grills and bakes well and is excellent in soups, stews, and chowders, as the meat does not flake or fall apart easily. Always remove the tough skin, which is not edible.
Buying tips: Try to buy skinless fillets or steaks, as removing the inedible skin yourself can be difficult. Look for pure white meat that shines reflectively; check for browning and signs of dryness.
Substitutes: Carp, cod, dogfish, grouper, haddock, monkfish, red snapper, striped bass, tilefish, wolffish
Notes: Blackfish flesh is meaty, as is the flesh of all fish that feed on shellfish.
(Blackfish eat clams, muscles, and crustaceans.)
a.k.a.: Snapper, chopper, tailor
Waters:U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coastal waters from Florida to Cape Cod; Atlantic coast of South America, Portugal, and Africa; coast of Australia
Description (in water): This silver-skinned school fish can weigh from 3 to 10 lbs.
Description (in market): The edible skin is usually left on the flesh, which ranges in color from white to silver-gray. The meat is rich and fatty with a fine, soft texture and long flake. The flavor is mild on the day of the catch yet gains in strength a day or two later.
Sold as: Whole, fillets, steaks.
Best cooking: First, remove the dark, oily strip of flesh that runs down the center of the fish, which can infuse the meat with a powerfully fishy flavor when it's cooked (you can ask your fishmonger to do this for you). Bluefish is excellent baked or broiled, or wrapped in foil and grilled over an open fire. (If preparing whole fish, it's a good idea to marinate it). It's also well suited for roasting and pan-frying, and for stir-frying in flour-dredged chunks. Its rich meat smokes well. Bluefish is not recommended for stews, soups, or chowders, since the meat falls apart easily.
Buying/storing tips: Whole fish should look alive, smell fresh and clean, and be displayed over ice. Fillets should glisten. Keep the fish well iced until cooking (natural oils in the flesh turn rancid when the internal temperature of the fish rises). Bluefish does not freeze or travel well, and is best purchased locally when in season.
Substitutes: Striped bass, mackerel, mahi-mahi, Atlantic pollock
Notes: Nicknamed "bulldog of the ocean," the bluefish is fiercely voracious and a popular quarry for sport fishermen. In the U.S., the season stretches from May to October along the northeast coast, and from December to April off the Florida coast.
Bluefish, especially larger specimens (over 6 lbs.), have been associated with high levels of PCBs. Most are considered safe, although as a precaution it's a good idea to discard the skin and to remove the strip of dark meat that runs down the center of the fillet.
a.k.a.: Striped bonito, skipjack, short-finned tuna
Waters:Warm waters worldwide, including Atlantic coasts, Mediterranean and Black Seas, Pacific and Indo-Pacific coasts
Description (in water): One of the smaller members of the tuna family, bonito rarely exceeds 25 lbs. Characteristic dark blue stripes run along the upper half of the body; sides and belly are silvery; back is steel-blue.
Description (in market): Be aware that bonito is often sold simply as "tuna"; such labelling allows fishmongers to get a better price for the meat, which is of excellent quality though not as prized as the meat of its larger cousins. Bonito has a moderate to high fat content and a flavor that is more pronounced than other members of the tuna family.
Sold as: Steaks, fillets, whole
Best cooking: Bonito must be brined before cooking. It bakes well after it's been salted, seasoned and dredged in flour or bread crumbs.
Buying tips: Whole fish should look alive, smell of seawater, and be displayed over ice. Steaks should be free of browning, look fresh, and glisten.
Substitutes: Bluefish, mackerel
Notes: Many Spanish dishes feature bonito, which is prized in the Basque region.
Dried bonito, or katsuobushi, is a popular ingredient in many Japanese dishes; it is an essential component of a soup base called dashi.
a.k.a.: Dollarfish, shiner, pumpkin-seed, starfish, pomfret, harvestfish, Pacific pompano
Waters:Atlantic and Gulf coasts (most species); there is one Pacific species.
Description (in water): A small fish (average 8 oz.; max. 10 inches long) with a round, flat body and forked tail. The deep blue back fades into a steely, silvery belly. Its scales are fine, almost nonexistent.
Description (in market): Butterfish have dark, sweet, richly flavorful meat that's high in fat and tender in texture.
Sold as: Whole (most common); smoked
Best cooking: An excellent pan fish--it's usually gutted with the head and skin left on. Small fish can be dipped whole in flour and deep fried. Larger specimens can be split, then broiled, baked, grilled, or sautéed. The flesh turns white and opaque when cooked.
Buying tips: Look for whole fish that smell fresh and have shiny, silvery, unmarred skin. Butterfish are often gutted before they're sold--if not, ask your fishmonger to do this for you.
Substitutes: Pompano, spot
Notes: Sablefish fillets are sometimes sold under the name "butterfish."