a.k.a.: Bonito shark, mackerel shark
Waters:Northern Atlantic coasts
Description (in water): Makos and other sharks harvested for food weigh from 15 to 120 lbs. (Many are larger). They are long and thin with bluish-gray backs that fade to pearly bellies
Description (in market): Dense, meaty, pinkish-white flesh that's low in fat, firm in texture, and moderately-strong in flavor (some steaks and fillets contain darker sections of reddish meat that have a more pronounced flavor).
Sold as: Steaks, fillets, chunks
Best cooking: Mako shark, like chicken, is versatile and takes well to flavorful boosts like marinades and spicy sauces. Steaks and fillets are excellent grilled, broiled, baked, poached, or pan-blackened. Chunks can be marinated and kebabed, or added to soups and stews.
Buying tips: Like other varieties of shark, mako can develop an ammonia odor after the catch, especially if it is not properly iced--avoid steaks and fillets that give off such a whiff, which can indicate that the fish has been sitting around a bit too long. Keep it well iced until cooking time.
Substitutes: Swordfish, mahi-mahi, blackfish, bluefish, grouper, pompano, tuna
a.k.a.: Goosefish, lotte (French), angler, angler fish, bellyfish, frogfish, sea devil, allmouth
Waters:Western Atlantic Ocean; U.S. Atlantic coast as far south as North Carolina; coasts of Mexico and Brazil
Description (in water): A large (up to 50 lbs.), fleshy, sand-colored fish with a huge head and oversized mouth; not a beauty-pageant winner. By twitching a long filament that protrudes from the head, the monkfish lures shellfish and other prey to satiate its enormous appetite.
Description (in market): Only the tail end of the fish is edible; this portion is usually skinned and filleted. The tender, flaky white flesh is low in fat, firm in texture, and has a very sweet, delicate, lobsterlike flavor.
Sold as: Skinned fillets (usually deboned). Whole specimens are less common.
Best cooking: The versatile monkfish is lovely grilled, poached, roasted, baked, and sautéed. It can also be cut into strips or chunks and deep-fried in the style of tempura.
Note: A thin gray membrane covers the tail meat; if your fishmonger has left the membrane intact, peel or cut it off before cooking.
Buying tips: Look for moist white fillets that glisten and are sweet-smelling. If the thin gray membrane has been left intact over the meat, you may want to ask your fishmonger to remove it before purchasing.
Substitutes: Blackfish, carp, cod, grouper, haddock, pollock, red snapper, tilefish, wolffish
Notes: Monkfish is not as popular here as it is in Europe, where it is considered a delicacy.
a.k.a.: blue or common mussel; there are dozens of species of mussels
Waters:Mussels can be found along the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean coasts. They are also frequently farmed.
Description (in water): Depending on the species, shells can be anywhere from 1 1/2 to 6 inches in length. Shell colors range from an indigo blue (the most common) to bright green to a yellowish-brown. All mussels' shells are thin and oblong in shape.
Description (in market): Mussels are best bought in their shells so they should appear much as they do in water. The meat of the mussel is cream, tan, or pale orange.
Sold as: Mussels are sold live in their shells, frozen or cooked and packed in oil, either plain or smoked.
Best cooking: Mussels are excellent steamed, baked, and fried. As with almost all shellfish, overcooking tends to make mussels chewy and tough. They are also popular as additions to pasta dishes, seafood soups like bouillabaisse and Spanish dishes like paella.
Buying tips: Buy them live and fresh. Buy mussels with tightly closed shells or those that snap shut when tapped; this is how you know that they're still alive. Those with broken and heavy shells should be avoided as should those that feel too light seem loose when shaken. Finally, as with many fish, smaller mussels tend to be more tender than their larger siblings.
Notes: Mussel seasons are different from coast to coast. On the East Coast, fresh mussels are available year round. On the West Coast, fresh mussels are only available from November through April. Mussels harvested at other times on the West Coast may be contaminated by microscopic organisms.
a.k.a.: Redfish, rosefish, red bream, sea perch
Waters:Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Description (in water): This marine fish is a member of the rockfish family and bears no relation to freshwater perch. Ocean perch range in color from deep red to orange-red (often called "canary ocean perch") to black (often called "black ocean perch"). The dorsal fins and opercle (gill covers) are strong and spiny.
Description (in market): The flesh is pinkish-white, lean, tender and mild-flavored. The scales are small and easily scraped off; the skin is edible.
Sold as: Fillets (scaled but with skin left on)
Best cooking: You can treat ocean perch as you would any all-purpose white-meat fillet; it is delicious broiled, sautéed, baked, or pan-fried.
Buying tips: Look for fillets of uniform color (no browning or graying); skin should be bright and unmarred, and flesh should glisten. The smell should be seawater fresh.
Substitutes: Rockfish, cod, flatfish, red snapper, weakfish, whiting
Waters:Octopus can be found in both the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific up and down the coasts of Mexico, the United States and Canada.
Description (in water): Octopus, like squid, are cephalopods, but octopus have eight tentacles. Most octopus are not the giant creatures we imagine them to be, but are usually no more than one or two feet in length, weighing in at about three pounds. Baby octopus are approximately one to two inches or less in length. Octopus have a red, brown and purple mottled skin.
Description (in market): Fresh or frozen raw octopus is purplish or brownish-gray in color, but otherwise resembles the octopus that is found alive in water. Cooked octopus is also available widely and is white and purple in color. Octopus meat is very firm, slightly chewy, yet tender with a mild flavor.
Sold as: Octopus is usually sold whole either fresh, frozen, or cooked. Most octopus is sold already cleaned. Smoked and canned octopus are also available.
Best cooking: All parts of the octopus can be eaten save the eyes, mouth area, and viscera. It can be eaten raw, deep fried, stewed, boiled and pickled. Japanese methods call for a vigorous rubbing with salt, then boiling until it turns white. With older and larger octopus, a longer cooking process is recommended to tenderize the octopus; boiling for as long as two hours is not unheard of. Baby octopus are cooked whole for a much shorter amount of time.
Buying tips: Although you can clean the octopus yourself, it is best to buy the octopus already cleaned. Fresh octopus can be identified if it still smells slightly of the ocean.
a.k.a.: Roughy, slimehead
Waters:Coastal saltwaters of New Zealand.
Description (in water):
Description (in market): An all-purpose white-fleshed fish similar to ocean perch. The meat is firm, low in fat, and mild in flavor.
Sold as: Fillets, usually frozen (Note: Orange roughy is frozen immediately after the catch, then filleted, refrozen, and exported worldwide. Remarkably, the fish is sturdy enough to handle multiple freezings--you're unlikely to notice a difference in taste or texture.)
Best cooking: Suitable for nearly all white-flesh fillet cooking styles, such as poaching, baking, broiling, and frying.
Buying tips: Look for pure white fillets free of browning, graying, and gaping. Smell for seawater freshness.
Substitutes: Ocean perch, blackfish, cod, flatfish, haddock, pollock, red snapper
Notes: This New Zealand import, which was not "discovered" until 1975, has been gaining in popularity as an all-purpose white fish. You'll find it in specialty fish markets and in well-stocked supermarkets.