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Fish and Seafood Glossary
shrimp - swordfish
tilapia - turbot
weakfish - wolffish

How many varieties of shrimp exist? What do I look for when buying live Maine lobsters? What’s the best way to prepare fresh salmon?

In our seafood glossary, you’ll find helpful information about fish, shrimp, lobster, crab, and other seafood varieties; interesting facts about seafood; tips on how to buy; best preparation methods; and more. You’ll become a seafood expert in no time!


a.k.a.: Alaska cod, black cod, butterfish, coalfish, sable, skilfish

Waters:Pacific Northwest coast

Description (in water): Though it's often referred to as Alaska or black cod or butterfish, the sablefish is actually related to neither. Most of these long, slender black fish range from 1 to 25 lbs. (they can grow up to 100 lbs.).

Description (in market): The white meat of the sablefish is fine-textured, oily, and succulent. The flavor is rich and distinctive; the fat content is high. The skin is edible.

Sold as: Whole, fillets, steaks; smoked

Best cooking: Sablefish can be baked, poached, broiled, grilled (use a grill basket), or pan-fried. Whole fish (or large fillets) can be roasted with the skin left on.

Buying tips: Whole specimens should look alive, be well iced and smell of seawater. Fillets and steaks should have pure white skin that glistens and is free of browning and signs of drying.

Unlike most oily fish, sablefish freezes well; in fact, it is standardly shipped frozen from Alaska to markets across the continental U.S.

Substitutes: Salmon, blackfish, grouper, mackerel, monkfish, sturgeon

Notes: Smoked sablefish, usually marketed as just "sable" has been an American Jewish-deli favorite for decades.


a.k.a.: Atlantic salmon; Pacific salmon; Chinook or king salmon; coho or silver salmon; sockeye, red, or blueback salmon; pink or humpback salmon; chum or dog salmon

Waters:Most species of wild salmon inhabit icy-cold North Pacific waters. Atlantic salmon is an endangered species, but markets worldwide are well stocked with the farm-raised variety harvested in the U.S. (Pacific Northwest and New England states), Chile, and Norway. (Note: Salmon is anadromous, meaning that it spawns in fresh water. Some fish become landlocked in lakes, resulting in a supply of freshwater salmon, which is considered to be not as flavorful, and therefore not as prized, as saltwater salmon.)

Description (in water): A long, thin, silver-skinned fish with a short forked tail. During spawning season the males of certain species (eg. sockeye) turn a bright red. The smallest weigh from 3 to 5 lbs., yet some are considerably larger--Chinook (or king) salmon can exceed 100 lbs.

Description (in market): The succulent meat of Atlantic salmon is usually pink-orange in color (there is also a white-fleshed variety) and high in fat, with a rich, pronounced flavor. Flesh of chinook or king salmon ranges in color from off-white to deep red; this succulent, soft-textured, strong-flavored, fatty meat is highly prized. Coho or silver salmon meat ranges in color from pink to orange-red, is high in fat, rich in flavor, and firm in texture. Sockeye, red or blueback salmon flesh is dark red, fatty, strong-flavored, and firm-textured. Pink or humpback salmon meat is moderately fatty and of less pronounced flavor than other salmon; it can be on the dry side. Chum or dog salmon meat is pale to deep orange in color, delicate in flavor, and lowest in fat of all salmon.

Sold as: Steaks (most common), fillets, whole fish (usually under 5 lbs.), canned, smoked. Salmon freezes well, and is often sold frozen or thawed.

Best cooking: When absolutely fresh, raw salmon is delicious. Salmon is also excellent grilled, broiled, poached, baked, roasted, and sautÚed. If grilling or broiling, you may want to choose one of the fattier varieties (eg. Atlantic or chinook), which are not as easy to overcook. The silvery skin of the salmon is very tasty; when grilling whole salmon, brush the skin generously with oil to help keep it intact.

Buying tips: Fresh or thawed steaks and fillets should look moist and smell seawater fresh; flesh should glisten. Whole fish should look alive and be well iced. Salmon is usually sold scaled with the skin left on--make sure skin looks bright, shimmery, and fresh.

Substitutes: Char, trout

Notes: Once exclusively a summertime fish, salmon's season now lasts all year, thanks to new freezing techniques and a booming fish-farming industry in the U.S. (in Maine and other Atlantic Northwest states), Norway, and Chile. Wild Pacific salmon is still seasonal; it is available from spring to autumn (peak of the season is midsummer).
Salmon is an excellent source of protein, vitamin A, B vitamins, and Omega-3 oils.
Salmon roe, which ranges in color from pale orange to bright red, is a popular and affordable alternative to premium caviars.


a.k.a.: Herring, sprat, Spanish sardine, pilchard

Waters:Coastal saltwaters worldwide

Description (in water): "Sardine" is a general name for the tiny, silvery marine fish that swim in large schools near the surface of the water. The name is often used interchangeably with sprat, pilchard, and herring. Sardines harvested in U.S. coastal waters are actually young herring, while so-called "true" sardines hail from European waters.

Description (in market): These soft-boned fish have dark, soft flesh that's high in fat and richly flavorful.

Sold as: Whole (either fresh or canned in oil, tomato sauce or mustard sauce), smoked, salted

Best cooking: European cooks love to brush fresh, gutted sardines with a little butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and briefly broil or grill them (use a grill basket) to serve as an appetizer. Sardines are also delicious pan-fried or sauteed.

Buying tips: When purchasing fresh sardines, be aware that they do not last long out of the water--their natural oils turn rancid rather quickly. Make sure they smell fresh and have unbruised skin that's shiny and alive-looking. Sardines should be kept in ice from the time they're harvested until cooking time.

Substitutes: Anchovy, smelt, bluefish, mackerel

Notes: Fresh sardines are seasonal, and usually local--you'll find them in summertime at fish markets near the coasts along which they're harvested.


a.k.a.: Sea scallops (American and European), Bay Scallops, Calico scallops

Waters:All varieties can be found on the Atlantic coast of the United States. As well, scallops are imported from places like Peru, Iceland, and parts of Asia. The American West coast is also home to sea scallops which are cultivated in California and the Puget Sound.

Description (in water): Living in shells anywhere from 7 to 12 inches in width, Sea scallops have two small wings near their hinges. The shells may have reddish stripes or may be a solid off-white. Inside the shells are the white abductor muscle (the meat of the scallop), its pale orange reproductive glands, its eyes (all 50 of them), gills, and digestive apparatus. Bay scallops have shells from 2 to 3 inches in width; Calico scallops are the tiniest and most attractive scallop of all with a mottled shell.

Description (in market): Depending on where you buy your scallops and which type you buy, scallops are sold at different degrees of "undress." American fisher people usually shuck scallops while on board their boats, leaving only the abductor muscle to market (this muscle is what we commonly think of as the scallop itself and is the meat we eat). Scallops can also be sold with their reproductive glands left attached. This is more common with European scallops whose roe are a more appealing bright red; the American scallop's roe is usually a dingy orange. Shucked scallops sold in markets are white in color, about an inch across and 3/4 to 1&1/2 inches high.

Sold as: Almost exclusively just the small white abductor muscle, but increasingly (especially if of the European variety) with its bright red roe. They are also available in the shell but this is rare.

Best cooking: Scallops can be eaten raw, sliced into disks of about 1/6th of an inch, and served with lemon wedges and salt or with a Japanese dipping sauce such as soy sauce with wasabi. Scallops can also be sautÚed, grilled, boiled, poached, or breaded and fried. They are best when cooked briefly; overcooking will toughen them.

Buying tips: Buy scallops in the shell if at all possible and shuck them yourself (easily done with a sharp paring knife). Scallops are usually still alive if they're in the shell, and while they may be expensive, they're guaranteed to be fresher. In order to keep pre-shucked scallops fresh, retailers and fisher people often soak them in water (sometimes mixed with preservatives to prolong the shelf-life). Soaked scallops (labeled "wet" by honest retailers) are usually shiny and pure white. "Dry" scallops (those that haven't been soaked) range in color from tan to yellow to off white and are fresher; consequently they are more expensive. Wet scallops also stick together in a single mass while dry scallops remain separated. Quick-frozen scallops are also available. Often these scallops retain much of their freshness as they were frozen immediately upon shucking.

Substitutes: Monkfish, cod chunks, tuna, shrimp, swordfish, tilefish


aka: Schrod

(Note: Scrod is not a type of fish but a market name used interchangeably for young cod, haddock, and sometimes cusk and pollock.)

Waters:See cod, haddock, and pollock

Description (in water): See cod, haddock, and pollock

Description (in market): Fillets labelled "scrod" could be any number of white-fleshed, delicately flavored fish; the broadly applied term usually indicates a young fish weighing under 2 1/2 lbs.

Sold as: Fillets

Best cooking: Prepare as you would cod, haddock, or any white-fleshed fillet. Poaching, broiling, baking, braising, and frying all promise fine results.

Buying tips: You should not have to pay premium rates for plain-jane, all-purpose scrod fillets. On the other hand, the quality of the young meat is usually very good. Check for freshness: Fillets should be a glistening, stark white and should smell fresh and sweet.

Substitutes: Cod, cusk, haddock, pollock, tilefish

Sea Bass

a.k.a: Black sea bass, white sea bass, giant sea bass, blackfish, rock bass

(Note: Sea Bass is not a particular fish but a general term to denote any of various saltwater fish that are not necessarily of the bass family.)

Waters:Saltwaters worldwide. Black sea bass inhabit Atlantic coastal waters; in the U.S., it is harvested off Cape Cod and as far south as Florida.

Description (in water): Sea bass are thin, dark gray or brown saltwater fish, distinguished by a sharp, bladelike upper (dorsal) fin that's usually removed by fishmongers. Giant sea bass, a Pacific coast fish, can weigh up to half a ton or more. The black sea bass of the North Atlantic is relatively smaller and a popular fish to purchase and cook whole.

Description (in market): Generally, sea bass have tender white flesh that is firm in texture, low to moderate in fat content, and mild in flavor.

Sold as: Whole (smaller specimens, usually about 1 to 3 lbs.), steaks, fillets

Best cooking: Sea bass is excellent grilled, broiled, roasted, pan-fried, or steamed. Smaller specimens are particularly delicious marinated and roasted whole; try not to move the fish while roasting so as to keep the skin intact. The skin of the sea bass is edible and considered delicious.

Buying tips: Whole fish should look alive and be displayed over ice. Check for red gills; smell for seawater freshness. If the spiny upper (doral) fin has not already been removed, ask your fishmonger to cut it off (it can be dangerously sharp). When purchasing fillets or steaks, avoid those that are skinned and precut; it is difficult to be sure whether these are true sea bass.

Substitutes: Cod, grouper, haddock, ocean perch, red snapper, striped bass, tilefish

Notes: The many varieties of freshwater bass include largemouth, redeye, rock, shoal, smallmouth, and spotted. These densely populate North American lakes, rivers, and streams and make for excellent sport fishing, yet it is unlikely that you will find them in fish markets or on restaurant menus.


a.k.a.: Allis (or Allice), American, Atlantic, Gulf, Ohio, twaite, or hickory shad

Waters:Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

Description (in water): This small (average 3 to 5 lbs.) silver-skinned saltwater school fish, like salmon, is anadromous--every spring it migrates to rivers to spawn in fresh water. Most shad have deep blue backs (hickory shad have gray-green backs) amd silvery sides and bellies. Shad is a member of the herring family.

Description (in market): Shad is perhaps the boniest of all fit-to-be-eaten fish, but this does not stop fish lovers from enjoying the sweet, tender pinkish- white meat. Like other members of herring family, shad is high in fat.

Sold as: Fillets, whole (with or without roe)

Best cooking: Because shad is particularly bony, it can be difficult to eat whole. Instead, use fillets, which are delicious broiled or baked.

Shad roe is considered a delicacy. The bright orange eggs are excellent prepared simply--eg. browned briefly in plain or seasoned butter. Keep cooking time short (3 to 4 minutes per side) so as not to produce dry, tough individual eggs; roe should remain pink in the center.

Buying tips: Deboning shad takes real skill acquired after much practice; it is best to purchase fillets from an accomplished deboner. You may want to check the fillets by running a finger along the bone lines (if your fishmonger will allow it!).
Shad roe should be purchased as fresh as possible; look for moist bright-orange eggs. The best way to ensure excellent quality shad roe is to ask your fishmonger to remove the egg sac from the fish while you watch (you may have to purchase the entire fish in order to make such a request).

Substitutes: Blackfish, bluefish, mackerel, salmon

Notes: Originally, shad inhabited the Atlantic Ocean (and East Coast rivers during spawning season) exclusively. It was introduced to Pacific waters in the nineteenth century.