a.k.a.: Sea trout, spotted sea trout, speckled trout, squeteague, gray trout, corvina
Waters:Warmer Atlantic waters from Florida to the Carolinas (and, in summer, as far north as Massachusetts); Gulf coasts; some Pacific waters along North and South America.
Description (in water): This long, slender fish is a member of the drum family. Its color can range from gray to olive-green; most have greenish backs that fade to olive sides flecked with purple, blue, and gold tones. The average weakfish weighs under 5 lbs.
Description (in market): The white or pinkish-white meat is low in fat and fine in texture. The flavor is mild and sweet with edible skin.
Sold as: Whole, fillets
Best cooking: Fillets can be baked, pan-fried, broiled, or grilled (use a grill basket). Note that weakfish fillets, like flatfish fillets, flake easily when cooked, so handle with care. Whole fish are delicious roasted with fresh herbs.
Buying tips: Whole fish look similar to trout, so take care not to confuse the two. Fillets may be white or pinkish-white, but should be of uniform color and free of browning, gaping, and signs of drying. Its smell should be seawater fresh.
Substitutes: Catfish, cod, haddock, flatfish, ocean perch
Notes: Weakfish is named for the tender, delicate flesh around the mouth, which is easily torn when hooked.
a.k.a.: Silverside, sand lance, herring, smelt, and juvenile fish of a wide variety of species.
Waters:Atlantic and Pacific coasts
Description (in water): "Whitebait" is a general name for juvenile fish of various species and families (particularly the herring family). They are usually under 2 inches in length and have white, translucent, or silvery skin
Description (in market): These fish are generally eaten whole (head and viscera included). They have a rich, strong flavor, soft texture, and high fat content.
Sold as: Whole, in batches by the pound
Best cooking: It is best to flour-dredge these fish in batches, then briefly pan-fry or deep-fry; season with salt and serve with wedges of lemon.
Buying tips: These small fish are not easy to inspect. Try to find unbruised, well-iced specimens that smell fresh.
Substitutes: Sardine, anchovy
Notes: You're most likely to find whitebait in fish markets in the summertime, when they tend to run into estuaries where they can be harvested easily.
a.k.a.: Cod, hake, silver hake, kingfish, merlan
Waters:Atlantic and Pacific coasts, North and Mediterranean Seas, and shallow marine waters worldwide
Description (in water): These small fish range from 1 to 5 lbs. Most are gray or silver in color; some have blue or green backs that fade into pale, silvery sides and bellies.
Description (in market): The lean white flesh, which tends to flake when cooked, is tender in texture and has a mild, sweet flavor. The skin is edible.
Sold as: Whole, steaks, fillets (fresh or frozen); salted, smoked
Best cooking: Almost any style of cooking suits whiting. Whole fish are excellent baked in wine and fresh herbs; fillets and steaks can be broiled or pan-fried, or cut into chunks and added to stews or soups. The delicate meat steams and poaches nicely.
Whiting is relatively inexpensive, and could be a good choice fish for making soup stock.
Buying tips: Look for red gills and bright skin on whole fish. If the fish has been beheaded, check the edges for pure white, fresh-looking flesh. Fillets and steaks should glisten and smell of the sea.
Substitutes: Cod, croaker, flatfish, ocean perch, red snapper, tilefish
Notes: It may be difficult to find fillets of whiting, since the fish has a complicated bone structure that not all fishmongers know how to extract. However, once the fish has been cooked, the central Y-shaped backbone (to which the entire network of bones is attached) easily pulls away from the flesh.
a.k.a.: Ocean catfish, seacat
Waters:Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Description (in water): Most of these long, gray-blue or greenish fish weigh under ten pounds, but 30- and 40-lb. specimens have been caught. This is a ferocious-looking fish with long, sharp front teeth and a set of back teeth that's built for crushing tough-shelled prey like clams, crabs, and sea urchins.
Description (in market): The lean, pearly white flesh has a firm texture and a mild, sweet flavor. The s kin is edible.
Sold as: Whole, fillets
Best cooking: Wolffish is perhaps best cooked whole, lightly flour-dredged and sautéed. It can also be broiled, roasted, or grilled (use a grill basket). Fillets are delicious pan-fried.
Buying tips: Look for unmarred skin and red, alive-looking gills on whole fish. Fillets should be white and moist, with no browning, graying, or gaping. The fish should smell of seawater.
Substitutes: Blackfish, cod, dogfish, flatfish, ocean perch, pollock, red snapper, turbot