A Guide to Fresh Fish

Discover the varying flavors of fresh fish.

Cod is a predator that hovers close to the ocean floor and swims very little, so it has hardly any of the strongly flavored red muscle or fat typical of active swimmers. Its mild, white flesh is flaky and delicate and is well suited to sauteing and roasting.
Red snapper has sweet, nutty-tasting flesh and tastes wonderful pan-roasted, making it highly sought after. Scarcity due to overfishing has tempted some fishmongers to practice deception: a 2004 University of North Carolina study showed that 75 percent of all fish labeled red snapper in markets is not in fact red snapper but, often, blackfin snapper or Pacific rockfish. To be sure of what you're getting, check the eyes: a real red snapper has bright red irises.
As the herring approaches spawning, its fat content can reach 20 percent, making its flesh deliciously full-flavored when the fish is fresh from the sea, but it may develop a rancid taste and a powerful fishy aroma once its fatty acids begin to oxidize. This volatility makes it a natural for quick-preserving methods like smoking and pickling.
The flatfish collectively known as American flounder actually belong to a number of different species, including fluke, lemon sole, yellowtail flounder, and gray sole, all cousins of the prized dover sole. Each variety has its distinctive character-gray sole, for instance, has a deep, mineral richness, and winter flounder is reminiscent of shellfish¿but all have the subtlety and succulence typical of bottom-hugging flatfish. Sauteeing and steaming are the ideal methods for the delicate, flaky flesh.
A wild salmon carries in its DNA (and in its flavor and texture) the imprint of the river it travels during spawning. The genetic strain that swims the 2,000-mile Yukon River in Alaska, for example, must build huge stores of muscle mass and fat in order to survive the trip. Salmon's fatty flesh sears beautifully when grilled or broiled.
The moniker sea bass is applied to a number of different species, including European sea bass (called loup de mer in France, branzino in Italy) and American striped bass (a k a rockfish). The European sea bass spends its entire life in saltwater, while the striped bass journeys to freshwater to spawn. Sea bass have a dense, firm flesh that is low in fat; the fish may be steamed, sauteed, grilled, or roasted.

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