a.k.a.: Bream, mouthbrooder, St. Peter's fish, Nile perch, Hawaiian sun fish, mudfish, ngege (Africa)
Waters:Fresh waters of Asia and Africa; fish farms in North and South America
Description (in water): Similar in shape to sunfish and variously colored (pale red, white, gray, or gray-blue); can range in size from 1 to 5 lbs.
Description (in market): Tilapia has white or pinkish flesh that's firm, low in fat, sweet and mild in flavor. The tender skin is edible.
Sold as: Whole fish
Best cooking: Tilapia can be baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed.
Buying tips: In the U.S., all tilapia is farm-raised and of lesser quality than the wild variety harvested in Asia and Africa. Tilapia is often marketed as a lower-priced substitute for red snapper, although its meat is not nearly as prized.
Substitutes: Porgy, sea bass, red snapper
Notes: For ages, tilapia has served as an important staple food in Asia and Africa. The fish was introduced to U.S. waters in the late 1960s to minimize algae build-up (tilapia feeds on the plantlike organism).
a.k.a.: Ocean whitefish, blanquillo
Waters:Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Florida; Gulf of Mexico; Pacific coast from Washington to Baja California.
Description (in water): A bright, colorful fish with a bluish to olive-green back, paler sides speckled with yellow-gold, and a pinkish-white belly. Can range from 6 to 50 lbs. or more. (Most market-bound specimens weigh under 10 lbs.)
Description (in market): The Atlantic-harvested tilefish is a popular all- purpose fish with white large-flaked flesh that's firm yet tender, low in fat, and delicately flavorful. The skin is edible.
The Pacific species, ocean whitefish, can have a slightly bitter flavor and is not as popular--and therefore not as widely available in markets--as the Atlantic variety.
Sold as: Whole, fillets, steaks
Best cooking: You can do almost anything with tilefish. Like cod, it's excellent baked or boiled. Whole fish can also be roasted or grilled (with a grill basket); fillets are excellent poached, braised, or pan-fried. Chunks can be added to stews and chowders.
Buying tips: Look for red gills, alive-looking eyes, and bright skin on whole specimens. Flesh should be firm, without browning, gaping, or signs of drying. Smell for seawater freshness.
Substitutes: Blackfish, cod, grouper, haddock, halibut, monkfish, pollock, red snapper, turbot, weakfish, wolffish
a.k.a.: Freshwater species include rainbow, lake, brook or speckled, golden, cutthroat, brown, and steelhead or salmon trout. Saltwater species include gray, silver, and spotted or white trout.
Waters:Fresh and saltwaters of the world. Aquacultured worldwide.
Description (in water): Trout are long, thin speckled fish ranging in color from silvery-gray (eg. rainbow trout) to brown (eg. brown trout). They range in size from 6 to 20 inches and in weight from 8 ounces to 50 lbs.
Description (in market): Trout meat is usually pale orange-pink, sometimes a deeper red-pink (though young trout are often white-fleshed). It is rich and full-flavored, with a firm yet creamy texture and moderate to high fat content.
Note: Wild trout are usually much more flavorful than the farm- raised variety.
Sold as: Whole (fresh or frozen), fillets
Best cooking: Whole trout is often stuffed and baked. Fillets can be pan-fried, poached, steamed, broiled, or grilled (use a grilling basket).
Buying tips: Look for bright, shiny skin and flesh that shimmers reflectively.
Substitutes: Salmon (in some cases)
Notes: You'll be hard pressed to find wild trout in supermarkets or even specialty fish stores; store-bought trout is nearly always farm-raised and, unfortunately, of inferior quality.
a.k.a.: Albacore, bluefin, blackfin, yellowfin (or ahi), skipjack, bonito, bigeye, tunny
Waters: Temperate saltwaters worldwide
Description (in water): A large, muscular, extremely fast swimmer of the mackerel family. Most species have blue or blue-black backs that fade into silvery sides and bellies. Smallest are skipjacks (5 to 40 lbs.), followed by albacores (10 to 60 lbs.), and yellowfin (can weigh several hundred lbs.); bluefin is largest (up to one ton).
Description (in market): The dense and firm meat is tender, full-flavored, and flaky. While tuna usually contains a moderate amount of fat, it can be on the oily side. The meat ranges in color from pale pinkish-white (albacore) to dark red (bluefin, yellowfin); in general, the darker the tuna, the stronger the flavor. The color of the flesh lightens ofter the meat is cooked. The skin is tough and inedible.
Sold as: Fresh or frozen steaks, fillets (usually only smaller skipjack variety), canned, salted, smoked
Best cooking: Until recently, tuna has been regarded strictly as an out-of-the- can treat. Cooks are becoming increasingly aware of the versatility and fine flavor of the fresh, beeflike meat. Fresh or frozen steaks are excellent grilled, and can be stuffed with fresh herbs and spices before grilling. Steaks can also be broiled, baked, poached, or pan-fried. It is easy to overcook tuna, so take care; many cooks prefer to sear or char the meat, leaving a pink center.
Note: Before cooking, you may want to remove the midlateral section of dark meat that runs through some steaks, which can have a strong, fishy, somewhat bitter flavor.
Fresh tuna is delicious served raw, sashimi- or sushi-style (Japanese cooks prefer to find leaner cuts of tuna for this purpose). Also popular in Japan is tsuna hamu--smoked tuna sausage.
Buying tips: Look for moist, unmarred steaks that glisten and are free of browning, gaping, and signs of drying. Generally, prefer steaks that are of uniform color (except for the midlateral strip of dark meat, which many cooks prefer to remove before cooking).
Canned, precooked tuna may be packed in oil or water and is sold in a "white" or "light" (albacore) variety and a "dark" (bluefin or skipjack) variety. "Solid" or "fancy" denotes large pieces of tuna, "chunk" is medium-sized, and "flaked" or "grated" is small bits and pieces. Italian tonno is brined, oil-packed dark-meat tuna.
Substitutes: Blackfish, bluefish, mackerel, salmon
Notes: Tuna winters in warmer southern waters and migrates northward in springtime; you'll find it fresh and "in season" in fish markets from May until late fall.
a.k.a.: Greenland turbot, turbotin (small turbot)
Waters:"True" turbot are harvested in European waters from the Mediterranean and North Seas to Iceland and Normandy; related fish inhabit marine waters worldwide.
Description (in water): This large flatfish can weigh up to 30 lbs. (most range from 3 to 10 lbs.). It is sand-colored and scaleless, with bony tubercles speckling the skin, which is usually removed before the fish is eaten.
Description (in market): The white flesh of the European turbot is prized for its lovely, delicate flavor. It is firm in texture and low in fat.
Sold as: Steaks, fillets, whole (less common)
Best cooking: Turbot is best prepared simply--the idea is to accent, and not to mask, its subtle flavor. It is excellent poached in dry white wine, or cooked with fresh herbs en papillote. The light meat is also delicious steamed, baked or broiled.
Buying tips: Try to find turbot that have been imported from European waters--these are of the finest quality, with the firmest and most flavorful meat. They will invariably be more expensive than non-European turbot. Turbot is imported frozen. Look for pure white meat that is free of gaping, browning, and signs of drying. The smell should be fresh.
Substitutes: Other flatfish, especially halibut.