a.k.a.: Atlantic, black, white, yellowfin, and spotfin croaker (species names); golden croaker (market name); hardhead, blackmouth, drum, jewfish
Waters:Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts
Description (in water): The smallest members of the drum family, croakers range from 1/2 lb. to 3 lbs. They are usually silvery in color; spotfin has a pale steel-blue cast and a characteristic black spot under the pectoral fin, while yellowfin has grayish-green sides with dark wavy lines and yellow scales.
Description (in market): Lean white meat that's tender and full-flavored. The skin is edible.
Sold as: Whole, beheaded (most common); steaks, fillets
Best cooking: A popular pan fish, croaker is often breaded or dusted with cornmeal or flour and pan-fried. It can also be marinated and sautéed, roasted, broiled, or grilled.
Buying tips: Look for unbruised, alive-looking fish with bright red gills and shimmery skin. Croakers should be kept packed in ice and have a sweet, fresh smell.
Substitutes: Butterfish, porgy, mullet, spot, weakfish, whiting
Notes: Fish of the drum family are named for the drumming, croaklike sound they make by contracting a bladder muscle; sometimes you can even hear their murmuring from the shore. They tend to make these sounds most often during breeding season.
a.k.a.: Spiny dogfish, lesser-spotted dogfish, spur dog, smooth hound, rough hound, nursehound, sand shark, nurse shark, grayfish, rock salmon, rock cod, huss, tope
Waters:Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean coasts
Description (in water): There are many varieties of this small species of shark. The average dogfish is long and thin and weighs about 25 lbs. The lesser-spotted dogfish is light brown with darker spots on the back and sides. The smooth hound has a gray back and pale, pearly sides.
Description (in market): The lean, firm-textured white meat of dogfish is mild to moderate in flavor. Although this fish is a species of shark, you'll find it has little in common with mako; rather, fillets look and taste similar to cod (hence the name "rock cod"), though they are rather more firm in texture.
Sold as: Skinless fillets, up to 1 lb.; smoked
Best cooking: Dogfish is perhaps most often associated with the British favorite known as "fish and chips," in which it is flour-dredged and fried. Fillets are also delicious baked, poached, sautéed, or broiled. They can also be cut into cubes for stews or chowders (the firm meat does not easily flake and disintegrate).
Buying tips: Smell fillets for freshness--avoid those that give off a whiff of ammonia. Fillets should be well iced, pure white in color and free of browning and signs of dryness.
Substitutes: Blackfish, catfish, cod, ocean perch, pollock, sea bass, red snapper, tilefish, turbot
Notes: Dogfish is gaining in popularity in the U.S. as a tasty, all-purpose white fish. In the past, American sport fishermen were apt to throw it back into the sea. In Europe, it has always been enjoyed.
a.k.a.: American Atlantic, European, conger, common, elvers (baby eels)
Waters:Most varieties breed in the saltwaters of the Atlantic near the coast of Bermuda. The eggs then float their way back towards Europe where they hatch (becoming elvers) along the coast and wriggle their way inland by rivers and streams till they reach the ponds, bogs, and swamps which are their homes. Eels live in these ponds and streams for about ten years before swimming back out toward the Atlantic where they spawn and then die.
Description (in water): This long, snakelike fish has a smooth and scaleless skin that ranges in color from black to brown to greenish. Eels can be found ranging in size anywhere from inch-long elvers to the conger eel which can be as long as 10 feet, weighing in at 170 pounds. The most appetizing eels will weigh in at under 2 pounds.
Description (in market): It's best to buy your eel live for freshness so eels often appear much the same in your market as they do in the water. Eel meat is tremendously flavorful, rich and firm.
Sold as: Either live or killed on the spot as your fishmonger prepares the eel as you like, perhaps skinning and gutting it. Eel is also sold pre-skinned and butterflied or filleted, but the freshness may be compromised if you can't verify how long the eel has been dead.
Best cooking: Eel can be grilled, sautéed, baked, hot-smoked or added to a stew or soup. Those who like elvers prefer to sautée them whole. Eel is best cooked if it is already skinned, gutted or butterflied, and cut into small chunks. Eel should not be eaten raw and is best served with an acidic sauce (using lemon, vinegar, capers, or tomatoes) to counter the rich meat.
Buying tips: Buy them live and kill them yourself (covered under Notes); they'll be much fresher that way. Don't buy eel if you haven't seen it alive, that is, if your fishmonger hasn't killed it before your very eyes. Buying large eels is unwise as the meat will be tougher; if necessary, purchase a larger quantity of smaller eels to ensure the tenderness of the meat.
Notes: To kill an eel, grip the neck firmly (you might want to hold on with a towel) and whack it against a tabletop or kitchen counter; you may also want to hit the eel on the head with something blunt and heavy, like a mallet. The eel is going to continue moving throughout the process; have no fear, it's dead. To skin the eel, make a shallow cut into the skin at the base of the neck. Pull back the skin all the way around the circumference. Using a towel, grip this bit of skin and pull; the skin should slide off the meat in one piece. To gut the eel, make a shallow cut at the base of the head all the way down to the tail and remove the vicera. Fillet, butterfly or section as you like.
a.k.a.: Flounder, halibut, fluke, sole, dab, sand dab, turbot, brill, plaice (all of these are members of the flatfish family)
Waters:Atlantic and Pacific coasts
Description (in water): "Flatfish" can refer to any member of a species of thin, flat fish that swim on one side; both eyes are located on the side that faces up. Size and color vary depending on the species; the downward-facing side of the fish is always pale and nearly colorless.
Description (in market): In general, flatfish have lean white or off-white flesh that's fine-textured and mild in flavor. The skin is edible, and usually quite tasty.
Sold as: Whole, fillets, steaks
Best cooking: Whole flatfish can be broiled or grilled (you'll need to use a grill basket); the scales are small and can be scraped off. You can do almost anything with flatfish fillets, which are particularly good seasoned, flour-dredged, and pan-fried. Fillets should be cooked briefly (less than 5 minutes)--be sure not to overcook them, or they'll dry out and fall apart. Once the fillet turns opaque white, it's done.
Buying tips: Whole fish should have red, alive-looking gills and bright, unmarred skin. Fillets and steaks should glisten and be free of browning and signs of drying. Make sure to smell for freshness.
Substitutes: The members of the flatfish family are pretty much interchangeable; cod, haddock, and whiting are additional options.
a.k.a.: Flatfish, halibut, fluke, sole, dab, sand dab, turbot, brill, plaice (all of these are members of the flatfish family)
Waters:Atlantic and Pacific coasts
Description (in water): Flounder can refer to any member of a species of thin, flat fish that swim on one side; both eyes are located on the side that faces up. Size and color vary depending on the species; the downward-facing side of the fish is always pale and nearly colorless.
Description (in market): In general, flounder have lean white or off-white flesh that's fine-textured and mild in flavor. The skin is edible, and usually quite tasty.
Sold as: Whole, fillets, steaks
Best cooking: Whole flounder can be broiled or grilled (you'll need to use a grill basket); the scales are small and can be scraped off. You can do almost anything with flounder fillets, which are particularly good seasoned, flour-dredged, and pan-fried. Fillets should be cooked briefly (less than 5 minutes)--be sure not to overcook them, or they'll dry out and fall apart. Once the fillet turns opaque white, it's done.
Buying tips: Whole flounder should have red, alive-looking gills and bright, unmarred skin. Fillets and steaks should glisten and be free of browning and signs of drying. Make sure to smell for freshness.
Substitutes: The members of the flounder family are pretty much interchangeable: cod, haddock, and whiting are additional options.
a.k.a.: Sand perch, rock cod, coney, jewfish, warsaw, red grouper, black grouper, sea bass
Waters:All warm Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean salt waters.
Description (in water): Only smaller specimens (5 to 15 lbs.) make it to markets, but grouper have been known to grow up to 500 hundred pounds. The color of the fish varies greatly. Red grouper is brownish with some darker mottling.
Description (in market): Grouper has meaty, lobsterlike, firm-textured white flesh of a mild, delicate flavor and a low fat content.
Sold as: Skinless fillets (most common), steaks, whole fish (under 10 lbs.)
Best cooking: The skin of a grouper is tough and can infuse cooked flesh with a strong flavor, so make sure it is removed prior to cooking. Grouper is firm enough to stand up to almost any style of preparation, including deep-frying, grilling, braising, poaching, and steaming. It can also be cubed and kebabed, or used in chowders or stews.
Buying tips: Avoid whole fish weighing over 10 pounds, since larger specimens of grouper has been associated with ciguatera poisoning. Fillets should be snowy white, not too dry, and free of graying and browning. He fish should smell seawater fresh.
Substitutes: Blackfish, carp, cod, haddock, monkfish, rockfish, sea bass, red snapper, striped bass, tilefish, wolffish
Notes: Over 400 species of grouper inhabit the saltwaters of the world.
a.k.a.: Scrod or schrod (a market name used interchangeably for young haddock, cod, and sometimes pollock); finnan haddie (smoked haddock)
Waters:Waters:Eastern and Western North Atlantic
Description (in water): A finfish, haddock is distinguished by a black lateral line and a characteristic "thumbprint" above the pectoral fin. Most specimens weigh between 2 and 6 lbs.
Description (in market): Haddock has mildly flavorful, moderate- to firm-textured flesh that is low in fat. It is similar to cod in flavor and consistency, though the meat is softer and doesn't respond as well to salting.
Sold as: Whole, fresh fillets or steaks (usually with skin on), frozen fillets or steaks
Best cooking: Like cod, haddock is an all-purpose fish that suits almost any style of cooking, such as baking, poaching, sautéeing, grilling, and roasting.
Buying tips: Fillets should be stark white and fresh-smelling, unmarred and glistening, showing no signs of dryness or browing.
Substitutes: Blackfish, cod, grouper, sea bass, red snapper, tilefish, turbot, wolffish
Notes: As with cod, overfishing has depleted the haddock population. The fish is now harder to find and rather more expensive than it was in the past.
a.k.a.: Whiting, red hake, white hake, silver hake, black hake, squirrel hake, ling
Waters:Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Description (in water): A slender fish, averaging 1 to 8 lbs., yet has been known to grow up to 60 lbs. There are at least a dozen species of hake, most of which are named for the color of the skin (red, white, silver, etc.).
Description (in market): Of the same family as cod and similar in many respects, hake is more coarsely grained with a slightly stronger flavor. Snow Hake has white flesh that is low in fat and can range in texture from soft to firm.
Sold as: Whole, fresh fillets or steaks, frozen fillets or steaks, smoked, salted
Best cooking: Can be prepared like cod, which is versatile and promises excellent results after baking, poaching, sautéing, grilling, and roasting.
Buying tips: Look for glistening, pure white flesh that is free of signs of dryness, grayness, and browning. Smell for seawater freshness.
Substitutes: Cod, whiting, dogfish, flatfish, ocean perch, pollock, rockfish, sea bass, red snapper, tilefish, weakfish, wolffish
Notes: Plentiful along the South African, South American, and Mediterranean coastlines, hake provides many countries with a good inexpensive source of protein.