• Rock Rousseau

HOW TO Select, Prepare, and Cook the Perfect Fish

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

Fish is a great source of protein and nutrients, and provides a great alternative to red meat or poultry. There are so many varieties of fish at your local market, so how do you choose the one you and your crew will enjoy the most? We break down the most common and preferred types of fish, and the various methods for preparing and cooking them.

Differences Between

Types of Fish


A huge species of fish with a very meaty texture. Large flakes of meat in the fish- similar to cod or shark but has a greater buttery taste which is uncommon in most white fish. Bass has very few bones within the meat.

Sea Bass fillets should smell like the sea. The signs of freshness in a whole fish are much easier to recognize. A whole fish should smell briny clean, not fishy. Gills are pink or red when the fish is fresh, turning brown, then gray, with age.

Some of the more common fish which are called Sea Bass include the following species:

  • Black Sea Bass is a true Bass, it inhabits the Atlantic Coast of the US.Blue

  • Spotted Sea Bass is a Grouper

  • Chilean Sea Bass is Patagonian Toothfish, not a Bass, and inhabits the waters around South America and the Antarctic.

  • European Sea Bass is a Bass found in European waters, the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

  • Giant Sea Bass is actually a Grouper, found on both sides of the Pacific from California to Mexico and around Japan

  • Hapu, or, Hapu’upu’u (Hawaiian Sea Bass) is a Grouper found only around the Hawaiian Islands.Japan Sea Bass – is actually a Sea Perch found from Japan to the South China Sea.

  • Peruvian Sea Bass is a Sea Perch found near Ecuador and Peru.

  • White Sea Bass is actually a Croaker, not a Bass, and inhabits the Pacific Coast from California to South America.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake Broil, Grill, Poach, Sauté, Steam


Catfish have a distinctive taste; moist, sweet and mild flavored with firm flesh which has less flake than other whitefish. Since they do not have scales Catfish are not considered kosher.

Basa (Vietnamese catfish) has a milder flavor and a more delicate texture which may be more approachable for people who do not care for catfish. Swai have a coarser texture than Channel Catfish & Basa, with tan to beige colored flesh which cooks up white. They are also called Spotted Catfish , Willow Catfish, Fiddler, or Forked-tail Catfish.

Fresh meat of catfish is white to off-white with pinkish hues, an iridescent sheen and noticeable translucence. Avoid fillets that are reddish or yellowish. After cooking the flesh is white and opaque.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, or Sauté.

Click here for our recipe for Blackened Catfish with Cilantro Butter

Click here for our recipe for Double-Layer Fish Tacos in Cilantro Peach Salsa


Cod have a lean, mild flavor profile with large flakes and a tender-firm texture. Their flesh is an opaque white color when raw and remains white after cooking. Atlantic Cod are a little sweeter than Pacific Cod, with translucent white to pink-tinged flesh when raw which turns white when cooked. Both are less firm and less sweet tasting compared to Haddock.

Pacific Cod are brown or grayish colored with dark spots or patterns on their sides. Although some menus will specify “Atlantic” or “Pacific” Cod, the fish is generally marketed simply as “Cod” without designating specifically which species. Also known as Atlantic Cod, Pacific Cod, Alaskan Cod, True Cod, Gray Cod, Scrod (Cod which is under 2 1/2 Lbs).

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Sauté or Steam. Even though it is lean, this fish is forgiving during cooking and can be rather difficult to “over cook”.

Click here for our recipe for Smoked Fish Dip.

Click here for our recipe for Double-Layer Fish Tacos in Cilantro Peach Salsa


Flounder is sweet with a delicate texture, making it ideal for people who are trying to get into fish for the first time. Fillets should smell like the sea. The signs of freshness in a whole fish are much easier to recognize than that of fillets. The signs of freshness in both round-bodied fish such as rockfish or salmon and flatfish such as halibut or flounder are the same. Even whole fish should smell briny clean, not fishy.

To maximize the shelf life of cooked flounder for safety and quality, refrigerate the flounder in shallow airtight containers or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Properly stored, cooked flounder will last for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. The best way is to smell and look at the flounder: signs of bad flounder are a sour smell, dull color and slimy texture; discard any flounder with an off smell or appearance.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Poach, Sauté, or Steam.

With a mild sweet flavor and delicate flaky texture, Flounder is a versatile, easy-to-prepare filet of fish. This firm-fleshed white fish can be baked, sautéed, stuffed, and poached. We recommend cooking this lean fish with butter, white wine, or your favorite sauce to maintain moisture and prevent your filet from drying out.

Click here for our recipe for Crab Stuffed Flounder


Grouper is a member of the serranidae family which also includes sea bass. Grouper is a lean, moist fish with a distinctive yet mild flavor, large flakes and a firm texture. The Red Grouper has a slightly sweeter, milder flavor than the Black Grouper and is considered to be the better of the two. Grouper’s flavor is a cross between Bass and Halibut. Also known as Red Grouper, Black Grouper, or Gag.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, or Steam. Grouper can be enjoyed many ways, but you must try a blackened grouper sandwich. Even though it is lean, this fish is forgiving during cooking and can be rather difficult to “over cook”.

Click here for our recipe for Broiled Grouper Parmesan.


Haddock are a northern Atlantic fish which are related to Cod yet are distinctly different. They have a mildly sweeter taste with lean white flesh and medium flakes with a texture which is firm yet tender after cooking. Haddock has a flavor similar to Halibut. They also have thin layer of connective tissue covering the flesh which Cod do not have. This connective tissue doesn’t affect the taste or texture, but is a good way to differentiate Cod fillets from Haddock fillets.

Haddock are a dark purple-gray color from the back fading down to the black lateral line, and silvery-gray below the lateral line accented with pinkish reflections. They usually are very uniform in color, but occasionally may have some mottled markings. Also known as Scrod (which is also a name for small Cod), Finnan Haddie, Snapper Haddock.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Poach, Sauté or Smoke. It does not salt well, but drying and smoking preparations work well.


Halibut is a lean fish with mild, sweet tasting white flesh, large flakes and a firm but tender texture. Because of its leanness this fish becomes dried-out if overcooked. Frozen halibut is denser and less moist than fresh halibut and is easier to overcook. when cooked right, the fish tender and moist. 

Also known as Pacific Halibut, Alaska Halibut, Cow of the Sea, Hippos of the Sea, Chicken Halibut (under 20 lbs), Hirame (Sushi).

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, Poach, Sauté, Steam, and Sushi. The most common methods of cooking this fish is to grill or sauté, or battered and fried.


The hogfish is characterized by a large, laterally compressed body shape. It possesses a very elongated snout which it uses to search for crustaceans buried in the sediment. This very long "pig-like" snout and its rooting behavior give the hogfish its name.

Hogfish is one of the most delicious fish in Florida. A delicate white fish that is thin and cooks quickly. The meat has a mild flavor and sweet undertones. If you order it, it will usually be shipped fresh, never frozen. To ensure that the fish is fresh, smell it, if it has a fishy odor, then it is not fresh. The meat of hogfish is tender, not tough and feels like it is melting once you put it in your mouth. It holds more moisture when cooking than other fish. Their ability to convert cholesterol into pure fat adds to the oils and moisture in its flesh.

Common names in other languages include bodiao-de-pluma (Portuguese), doncella de pluma (Spanish), jaqueton blanca (Spanish), labre capitaine (French), odynczyk (Polish), ornefisk (Danish), pargo gallo (Spanish), and pez perro (Spanish)

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Broil, Bake, Deep-Fry, or Sauté. It will marry and enhance any flavor you introduce. Lemon, tomatoes, and basil all work well with Hogfish.


Japanese Sushi Chefs relish the Atlantic Mackerel due to its distinct personality. For a savory taste of the mackerels, you need to prepare them fresh. Oily, dark flesh fishes lose their freshness quickly to take a strong ‘fishy’ taste. It has a strong flavor similar to that of salmon. The flesh is firm and oilier than that of tilapia or cod. You can prepare it in many ways not just making sushi out of it.

You can tell if mackerel is fresh, the color of the flesh is off-white. This is slightly darker than the color of flesh of tilapia or cod.

Kingfish Mackerel

Related to the Spanish Mackerel, Kingfish are slightly oily with a meaty texture. If you are craving a meaty fish steak, kingfish is a good alternative. Kingfish are ocean fish that are related to the Spanish mackerel. Like other large, slightly oily fish, kingfish can be grilled, broiled or poached with satisfying results.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, or Smoke.

The thick steaks are good for grilling but the best method may be smoked. For a distinct, versatile taste, a squeeze of lemon, soy glaze or zesty tomato sauces,


To clarify, Mahi-Mahi are not dolphin. Mahi-Mahi are known as dolphinfish. The dolphin species we all know and love are much different than dolphinfish. Remembr, dolphin are not even fish; they are warm-blooded mammals, who also breathe air using their lungs.

Dolphinfish are fish and breathe through gills. They are also among the fastest swimmers in the sea. Their Spanish name is Dorado maverikos which means “golden maverick”. 

They have a lean flesh with a mild, sweet flavor profile, moderately firm texture and large, moist flakes. The skin is thick and should therefore be removed before cooking.  Fresh Mahi Mahi has translucent pinkish flesh and a bright red bloodline. It is a beautiful fish with a rainbow of dazzling iridescent colors which fade after dying.  The back is electric green and blue with gold or silver sides and bellies. The sides have a speckling of spots. If the bloodline is brownish or dull then the fish is old.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, Sauté. This meaty white fish are one of the most popular for grilling and pan searing.  

Click here for our recipe for Smoked Fish Dip.


Mullet is most often served fried and diners are warned to be careful of the bones, as even a well-filleted mullet may contain many tiny bones. The flesh is meaty and oily, substantial even. Mullet is found on the menu of many seafood restaurants in North Florida and is a favorite of community fish fries.

Red mullet is classified as a white fish but has a much stronger taste than many of its counterparts. Grey mullet has a distinctive, almost earthy flavor which is a delicacy when smoked. Smoked mullet is a particular delicacy of North Florida, as a mullet is filleted, seasoned and grilled for several hours over low heat.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, Smoke. The flavor of mullet lends itself to stronger ingredients like rosemary, thyme, oregano chili and garlic.

Click here for our recipe for Smoked Fish Dip.


Pollock is the preferred fish of many restaurants, taquerias and fast food chains. ... As far as the nutritional value of pollock, like salmon, tuna and cod, it is a good source of lean protein and low in saturated fat. Alaskan Pollock have a mild, delicate taste with white flesh, large flakes, a slightly coarse texture and a low oil content. They have a similar but somewhat milder flavor as haddock or cod.

Alaskan Pollock, Pacific Pollock, and Walleye Pollock are all the same fish, but it should be noted that Alaskan Pollock is a marketing name specifically for fish caught in Alaskan waters. Pacific Pollock are generally smaller than their Atlantic cousins.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Sauté or Steam.


Rockfish includes over 70 varieties of fish; sometimes referred to as Pacific Snapper. Rockfish are a lean and have a mild, sweet flavor with a nutty accent.  The flesh has a medium-firm texture with medium sized flakes. Their skin color ranges from black to green to red, with the brighter colored fish coming from the deepest waters. Some have stripes or splotches.

The most common commercially sold Rockfish include Pacific Perch, Vermillion, Yelloweye and Widow.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Deep-Fry, Poach, Sauté, or Steam


There are six salmon species in North America. Chefs-Resources provides a culinary profile for each salmon. Follow the links on this page, or in the navigation menu on the left, to see detailed information for each salmon species. Or see the differences between salmon species.

Atlantic Salmon are an East Coast species which is primarily an aquaculture raised fish due to the limited availability of wild Atlantic Salmon.

Pacific Salmon species include five species:

Chinook Salmon (King Salmon)

Fresh wild King Salmon is the largest of all the wild Pacific salmons, having the highest omega-3 oil content and most velvety texture. It is a delicious, rich-flavored fish which lends itself to a wide variety of cooking applications.

Sockeye Salmon

Fresh wild Sockeye Salmon has the firmest, reddest flesh of all wild Pacific salmon and is my personal favorite. It is a delicious, full-flavored fish which lends itself to a wide variety of cooking applications. Sockeye Salmon is a fabulously full-flavored fish with a high fat content which contributes to its rich flavor. It has a firm-texture with medium sized flakes and flesh which ranges in color from orange to deep red. Compared to Chinook (King) Salmon, Sockeye has a denser, meatier texture and a more intense flavor, while King has a more succulent, tender texture with larger flakes.

Coho Salmon

Fresh wild Coho Salmon is milder flavored and more lean than Sockeye and King Salmon. But it still has enough firmness and oil content to lend itself to a wide variety of cooking applications. Coho Salmon are medium flavored with medium flakes and moderate fat content. The flesh is lighter than Sockeye and usually lighter than King.

Chum Salmon

Fresh wild Chum Salmon, also called Keta Salmon, has a milder flavor and is more lean than Coho, Sockeye and King Salmon. But it still has enough firmness and oil content to lend itself to a wide variety of cooking applications. Chum Salmon have light pink to orange colored flesh which is lighter than Chinook, Sockeye and Coho. The texture is more firm and coarse than the other salmon and Chum has a milder flavor.

Pink Salmon Pink salmon have light pink flesh, a mild flavor and a lower oil content than Sockeye salmon. They are not considered as high a quality of fish as Sockeye salmon, but are a good, affordable option.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Grill, Poach, Sauté, Smoke, or Steam.

Click here for our recipe for Salmon New Orleans in Cajun Butter Sauce

Click here for our recipe for Grilled Cedar Salmon

Click here for our recipe for Creamy Salmon and Shrimp Risotto


Most commonly consumed shark varieties are dogfishes, catsharks, sand sharks, makos, and smoothhounds. Mako fish is a delicacy for their meat is salmon-coloured having a very fine quality. Mako liver is used to prepare oil that is rich in vitamins.

Shark meat has the texture of chicken breast; It's meaty and mild. Only purchase shark meat from a reputable fishmonger or supermarket. Shark meat must be cleaned properly, even more so than fish, to have a palatable taste. Sharks urinate through their skin and if not cleaned directly after catching, the taste will be nearly inedible. Therefore shark meat has to be cleaned and soaked well before it's cooked. Shark is a lean meat without a lot of fat, so you may want to marinate the meat for an hour or two before putting it on the fire to help it stay moist and tender.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Broil, Grill, or Sauté. The most popular way to cook shark is grilling. You can barbecue nice, thick shark steaks just as you would swordfish or salmon.


Snapper is a lean, moist fish with a firm texture and a distinctive sweet, nutty flavor which makes it versatile for many flavor components from mild to intense seasoning.

Many other fish are marketed as “Red Snapper” but are not the real thing so check your sources, and buy it with the skin on so you can verify the skin color. The raw flesh of Red Snapper is pinkish with yellow streaks, turning lighter (but not white) when cooked. The skin is deep red along the back which fades to a lighter pinkish- metallic colored skin. Older fish have red skin and red eyes.

They are called “snapper” because of their large, animal-like teeth. The only species that can be legally marketed as Red Snapper is the American Red Snapper. Red Snapper have red skin and red eyes and come from waters off the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf states and Mexico. Also known as American Red Snapper, Snapper, Caribbean Red Snapper, or Mexican Snapper.

A related species is the Yellowtail Snapper- some claim it is the best tasting snapper in the Keys. Very popular and the go to species for those working the patch reefs. They are abundant most anytime of the year. They have a pinkish flesh with a light flaky texture. You can get them prepared a variety of ways in a variety of restaurants. With a light white flaky texture, it enhances those flavors that accompany the fish. Try it with Pineapples. You can’t go wrong with Yellowtail Snapper.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Grill, Poach, Sauté or Steam. The popular cooking method is to roast the fish whole.


A highly pursued game fish, Swordfish