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  • Writer's pictureRock Rousseau

HOW TO Select, Prepare, and Cook the Perfect Fish

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

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 has a mildly sweet flavor and a moist, meaty texture with moderately high fat content.  The flesh can range from white or ivory to pink or orange.  The color variations do not reflect quality.  All Swordfish turn beige in color after cooking.

FDA Note: Swordfish have high levels of methyl-mercury so the FDA advises that pregnant women, nursing women, women of childbearing age and young children avoid eating swordfish.

Fresh Swordfish loins should be ivory in color and have a translucent quality.  Previously frozen loins will be whiter and have an opaque rather than translucent quality about the flesh.  The bloodline should be red, not brown or black.  If there are red spots in the flesh it indicates that there are broken blood vessels and the fish was over-stressed at capture–return it for a fresh piece. Also known as Broadbill, Espada, or Emperado.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Grill, Sauté, or Smoke. Because they have a meaty texture and are best when cut into steaks and either grilled or pan-fried with your favorite seasonings.



Tilapia has a sweet, mild taste with lean flesh and a medium-firm, flaky texture. Raw flesh is white or pinkish-white sometimes with a darker muscle layer on the skin side of the fillets. The flesh cooks up to a white color. Aqua-cultured Tilapia tend to have a better flavor than wild Tilapia because Tilapia taste like their environment and wild fish feed on algae.

Depending upon the species, the skin color can range from black and white striped, to green, to red. Average whole Tilapia are 1–2 lbs but can grow larger. Most US fresh Tilapia is from south-western states as well as from Costa Rica and Colombia. Tilapia is very much a product of its environment. If it is raised in poor quality water then it’s flavor will be muddy, grassy, or worse. You want to buy premium Tilapia from a quality source.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Sauté, or Steam



They have a light flavored flaky flesh with a good moisture content. Trout can be prepared in a variety of ways. Try it battered, breaded and deep fried. It's a clean taste as where they live imparts a flavor into their meat. ... Trout does not taste fishy (if it does, it may be bad). It's a very mild flavor and is a soft small flaked fish.

For most fish taste charts, trout is known for its mild flavor and a delicate texture. For people like us who are still a bit uninitiated, a delicate textured fish has a smaller flaked meat while the medium texture fish is firm. The tender and the firm-textured fish tastes like eating a tender beef steak. Rainbow trout meat is mild, with a delicate, nut-like flavor. The flesh is tender, flaky and soft.

While tuna has an odor and taste that's, well, let's just say acquired, smoked trout has a flavor that's both subtle and smoky. And while smoked salmon often comes pre-sliced in thin, limp strips, smoked trout is usually sold in fillets that you can flake into large, satisfying pieces of fish.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

Bake, Broil, Deep-Fry, Grill, Poach, Sauté or Smoke. Don't overpower the delicate taste of rainbow trout with strong sauces. A little butter, lemon and parsley is usually all you need to bring out the delicate flavors of this fish.



Tuna is a delicious fish which lends itself best to grilling or searing. Over-cooked tuna is “dog food” tough and tasteless like eating cardboard.

Tuna Grading is as follows: No. 1 “Sashimi-grade” is the best, being the freshest and having the highest fat content. No. 2 “Grill-grade” is next best. No. 3 and No. 4 are lesser quality.

Store fresh loins/steaks as close to 33° as possible to maintain highest quality and shelf life. Although ice can be used, the flesh should be tightly wrapped in plastic and placed in perforated pans. The flesh should never come in direct contact with ice or water as this will discolor the meat, leech the oil content, and decrease shelf-life. Tightly wrapping in plastic will also slow the natural oxidation of the meat color which fades from a bright color to a darker, more opaque color.

There are 15 species of tuna. But six of them are used for culinary purposes.

Albacore Tuna

Albacore tuna is often consumed as processed products; it’s a widely famous ingredient for canned tuna. Pale pink and almost white colored meat has a chicken like texture more than tuna.

Albacore has a mild to medium flavor profile with firm flesh and large flakes. Like other tunas, it has a “steak-like” texture, but less firm than Yellowfin or Bigeye Tuna. It does however have a higher fat content which gives it a richness of taste. Albacore Tuna is also called Tombo Tuna.

Bluefin Tuna

Tuna is best thought of as the only ‘bluefin tuna’.  It’s a representative of a high class of tuna being served in sushi restaurants.  You don’t see them much in the supermarket.

Bluefin Tuna has the darkest and fattiest flesh of all tuna. It has a distinctive medium-full flavor and firm, “meaty” texture with large flakes. It is best served as sushi or cooked rare to medium-rare.

Bigeye Tuna

The meat has less fat compared to bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna so it’s No.3 when it comes to sushi and sashimi. The taste is light, but both red meat and middle-fat is delicious. Bigeye Tuna are prized for sashimi. They have a moderately pronounced flavor, a high fat content with marbling near the skin and a richer flavor than Yellowfin. Like other tuna, the texture is firm and “meaty” with large flakes. It is best served as sushi or cooked rare to medium-rare.

Blackfin Tuna

While blackfin tuna might not be sushi-grade bluefin, it definitely makes a good eat, especially if you know how to cook it.  We prefer eating smaller blackfin tuna because you will get better quality meat out of them.

Longtail Tuna

They are a great sport fish and are also good to eat. Longtail tuna are usually eaten fresh or smoked and are used for canning. Raw Longtail tuna fillets are pink to red with a medium to firm texture and a rich, mild and meaty taste when cooked.

Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin Tuna, also known as Ahi, is a delicious fish which lends itself best to grilling or searing cooking applications. It is best served as sushi or cooked rare to medium-rare. The meat is a light red color close to pink and the taste is a light with no sharpness. The fat is low so the Toro part cannot be taken out but the meat is firm, so it’s perfect for sashimi or steak. Yellowfin Tuna has a medium-mild flavor with very firm texture.  Compared to other Tunas it is less flavorful than Bigeye but more flavorful than Albacore.  The flesh is deep red while raw, is often used for sashimi, and is best not cooked well-done as it loses flavor.

Preferred Cooking Methods:

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

Click here for our recipe for Shrimp & Tuna Sub