a.k.a.: Olympia, Japanese, Eastern, Atlantic, Bluepoint, Apalachicola, Cape Cod, Chincoieague, Indian River, Kent Island, Malpeque, Wellfleet, Belon, Colchester, Helford, Whitstable, Galway.
Waters:The oyster can be found in both the Pacific and the Atlantic waters of the United States, and many are named for their specific place of origin along these coastlines. From the Atlantic come the Apalachicola, the Cape Cod, the Indian River, Keni Island, Malpeque and Wellfleet species. On the other side of the Atlantic, the French coast is home to the Belon while the colder English waters offer the Colchester, Helford and Whitstable oysters.
Description (in water): In the water, the bivalves known as oysters wear a dark grey, stone-like shell that is clamped firmly around their pillow of pale beige to light grey meat.
Description (in market): Oysters are commonly sold in the shell, live, and so their appearance in the fishmonger's bucket resembles closely that which they possessed in the water. The prized flesh of the oyster is packed in a pillow-like body, which ranges in texture from quite firm to soft and watery, with a distinct, saline flavor.
Sold as: live oysters in the shell, freshly shucked oysters in their liquor, canned in water or in their own liquor, smoked or frozen.
Best cooking: Contrary to what the name of this category implies, oysters are best not cooked at all, but eaten on the half shell within minutes of having been shucked. However, they are also delicious broiled or baked, added to soups, stews, and stuffings, grilled in their shells until they open (just throw them on the grill), deep-fried, or very gently sauteed.
Buying tips: When purchasing live oysters, choose only those with firmly sealed shells; if an oyster is slightly gaping open, you should tap on the shells and see that they shut immediately. When selecting oysters, pick the smaller ones for guaranteed tenderness. If you are buying pre-shucked oysters, select those that are uniformly sized, plump, with a good color and smell, and packaged in absolutely clear (not milky) oyster liquor (the juice that is held, along with the flesh, in the shell). You should use shucked oysters in their liquor within two days, and ought only keep live oysters for up to three.
Notes: Oysters are typically at their best during the fall and winter, since their spring and summer spawn makes them turn fatty and too soft.
To shuck an oyster, it firmly in your left hand, with your palm protected by a kitchen towel, and with your right hand, insert the tip of an oyster knife near the bivalve's hinge. Twist and turn gently to pop the shells open, paying care not to fracture the shell in the process. Once you've opened the shells, use your knife to slide under and over the oyster meat, severing the two membranes that hold it in place in its shell. If you nick the oyster while freeing it, flip it over in the shell for a neater presentation.
a.k.a.: Saithe, coalfish, coley, Boston bluefish, Pacific tomcod; Atlantic, Pacific, or Alaska pollock
Waters:Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Description (in water): A member of the cod family, pollock is a long, thin, big-eyed fish ranging from 4 to 35 lbs. The back is greenish-brown or a deeper, charcoal color that fades to a silvery belly.
Description (in market): The color and texture of the flesh varies according to region: Atlantic pollock are tannish-gray and very firm (though slightly oily), while the Pacific variety are white and codlike with a more tender texture. Pollock has a moderate to low fat content and a mild, slightly sweet flavor. The skin is edible.
Sold as: Fillets (most common), steaks, whole (less common--smaller specimens only); smoked
Best cooking: You can prepare pollock as you would cod. Fillets roast, broil, and sautée very nicely. Use the cooked meat, mixed with a potato-and-herb mixture, to make batter-dipped deep-fried fritters.
Buying tips: The color of the flesh may vary from fish to fish, but it should be uniform and moist, free of browning, gaping, and signs of drying. Make sure there are no off odors.
Substitutes: Blackfish, cod, flatfish, rockfish, red snapper, whiting
Notes: In the U.S., pollock is the fish of choice for processed seafood. It is often used to make surimi and similar shellfish substitutes. Fish sandwiches, which are popular in restaurants and fast-food establishments, are often prepared with pollock.
a.k.a.: Permit, butterfish, sunfish
Waters:Southern Atlantic U.S. coast; Gulf coast
Description (in water): These small, thin marine fish usually weigh no more than 2 lbs. The back is a deep bluish-green which fades to a silver belly. The eyes are small, the body deep, and the tail forked.
Description (in market): The white or off-white flesh is fine-textured, meaty, and sweet. The fat content is moderate, which makes for a succulent yet somewhat oily bite. The skin is edible.
Sold as: Whole (most common), fillets
Best cooking: Pompano is considered by many to be America's finest pan fish. With its uncomplicated bone structure, pompano is easier to eat than most pan fish. It is excellent broiled, grilled, baked, or pan-fried, and is a favorite fish to prepare en papillote (baked in pouches).
Buying tips: Whole fish should look alive with bright, unmarred skin and red gills; they should smell of the sea. If the fish has not been scaled, ask your fishmonger to do it.
Substitutes: Butterfish, croaker, flatfish
Notes: Pompano is a fish of superior quality, and it is priced accordingly--a small, fresh, uncleaned fish can cost more than six dollars.
a.k.a.: Bream, sea bream, scup, pogy, paugy, jolthead, fair maid, whitebone, pink, white, or silver snapper
Waters:Southern Atlantic Ocean; Mediterranean Sea
Description (in water): There are about a dozen different varieties of this warmwater marine fish, which ranges in size from 1/2 lb. to 20 lbs. (those harvested for commercial purposes usually weigh under 3 lbs.). In the U.S., the most popular and most widely available member of the porgy family is the scup, which is slender and oval-shaped, with a brownish back fading to a silvery belly.
Description (in market): The firm, flaky white flesh of the porgy is low in fat and delicately flavorful. A bony fish, porgy can be a bit difficult to eat.
Sold as: Whole (most common), fresh or frozen
Best cooking: Porgy and other bony fish are best roasted--the meat slips off the bones more easily, and the bones tend to soften during cooking. This is also a fine fish for baking, broiling, grilling, and pan-frying. Make sure the scales have been removed before using this fish.
Buying tips: Whole fish should look alive, with bright, reflective skin and red gills. If the fish has not been scaled, ask your fishmonger to do this for you.
Substitutes: Bluefish, croaker, flatfish, pompano, rockfish
a.k.a.: Mexican snapper, Caribbean red snapper, Florida snapper
Waters:U.S. Southern Atlantic coast; Gulf and Caribbean coasts
Description (in water): A red-eyed fish with carmine fins and a red back that fades into a pinkish belly. Ranges from 2 to 35 lbs. (average 3 to 8 lbs.).
Description (in market): The prized white meat of the red snapper is firm in texture, low in fat, mild and delicate in flavor. A meaty, all-purpose fish with edible skin.
Sold as: Whole fish, fillets, steaks
Best cooking: Almost anything goes with this popular, versatile fish. Whole red snapper is excellent baked and stuffed, or poached and glazed (salmon- style). Fillets can be steamed, broiled, roasted, pan-fried, or (with a fish basket) grilled. Chunks can be added to stews and chowders (leave the skin on for a colorful touch).
Buying tips: Not all snapper is red snapper--be wary of fish market labels, which can be ambiguous. Look for whole fish with deep red fins and red backs fading into pinkish-silver bellies; check for healthy red gills (the fish should look alive). Choose fillets with red skin left on, as skinned fillets can easily come from other (less premium) kinds of snapper. White meat should be moist and reflective, free of gaping and drying.
Substitutes: Blackfish, carp, grouper, haddock, monkfish, ocean perch, pollock, tilefish, turbot, whiting, wolffish
a.k.a.: Ocean perch, Pacific red snapper, rock cod; yellowtail, goldeneye, blue rockfish; bocaccio, chilipepper, shortbelly
Waters:Northern Pacific coasts
Description (in water): There are over 50 varieties of this fish, which ranges in weight from 5 to 15 lbs. Its color varies according to the species (red or reddish-pink, brown, blue, etc.); some have dark mottling. Rockfish generally fall into two categories--deep-bodied (yellowtail, goldeneye, blue rockfish) and long-bodied (bocaccio, chilipepper, shortbelly).
Description (in market): In general, the white meat of the rockfish is firm in texture and low in fat, with a mild, sweet flavor. Meat of the deep-bodied variety tends to have a slightly firmer texture and fuller flavor.
Sold as: Fillets (most common), whole
Best cooking: Rockfish is excellent baked, broiled, poached, or sautéed. Fillets of the long-bodied variety tend to be soft and fragile and should be handled carefully (these are not the best fish for grilling).
Buying tips: Look for glistening, unmarred white fillets that show no signs of gaping, browning, or drying.
Substitutes: Ocean perch, cod, flatfish, red snapper, weakfish, whiting
Notes: "Rockfish" and "ocean perch" are used interchangeably in the market place--just be aware that rockfish is the name of the family of which ocean perch is a member.