Consumer Guide To Fish

Posted: February 28, 1996

How shall we describe the taste?

Stronger, perhaps?

No. No. No, the experts rush to correct us.

``Strong'' is a word abhorred in polite fish-speak.

Richer. Fuller-tasting. More flavorful. Robust.

That's right.

Now they've taken the wine approach to fish tastings, too.

Simply Seafood magazine has even published a booklet - ``Fish Speak'' - to guide us through some of the subtle fish flavors. The booklet is available for $4.50 by calling 800-835-2722.

Combining our own impressions from recent tastings with those of the seafood experts who developed this lexicon, we offer this glossary describing several select species.

BOTTOMFISH. You are apt to be more familiar with the mild, white meat of cod, haddock, hake and halibut, all bottom-dwellers found in cold, North Atlantic waters.

More interesting, however, are their warm-water counterparts, which are turning up more often on restaurant menus and in retail fish markets.

Among those delicate to mild-flavored fish are:

Grouper (Sea Bass) - Has clear white flesh and delicate taste. Popular in ethnic restaurants, with growing nonethnic demand. Can be steamed, baked, poached or deep-fried. Interchangeable with other white-fleshed bottomfish.

Gray Snapper (Uku) - Also called jobfish, this summer snapper has clear, pale pink flesh, firm texture, moderate flavor and a faintly nutty aroma. A good-looking fillet that may be baked, broiled, sauteed or steamed.

Pink Snapper (Opakapaka) - A premium table snapper with clear, light pink flesh, smooth texture and a mild, slightly tangy, clean flavor. A versatile fish for baking, poaching or sauteing.

Red Snapper (Onaga) - Also called longtail snapper, this is traditionally served on ceremonial occasions. The clear, light pink flesh is mild, sweet and well-balanced, somewhat similar to opakapaka. Good for winter sashimi.

TUNA. Tuna may be the best-selling, most frequently used fish in America, but that is because most consumers use it from cans.

If you've never tasted fresh tuna, you're missing one of life's great pleasures.

The finest-quality tuna is often reserved for use as sashimi, those bite-size morsels of raw fish served with soy sauce and wasabi (Japanese horseradish), or with sushi (vinegared rice).

Albacore Tuna (Tombo) - The light to deep pink flesh is softer raw than other tunas - thus more difficult to slice for sashimi. It is fine-textured but full-flavored. Use on the grill, or broil or saute. Dries quickly; don't overcook.

Bigeye Tuna (Ahi) - Similar to yellowfin tuna, but with the higher fat content preferred by sashimi buyers. Has reddish-pink flesh and more intense tuna flavor. Excellent for grilling. Serve rare, if not raw.

Bluefin Tuna - The most common tuna in Atlantic waters, bluefin has darker flesh and a more pronounced flavor, similar to skipjack.

Skipjack Tuna (Aku) - This striped tuna has firm red flesh and more intense flavor that appeals to Japanese and Hawaiian tastes, even as sashimi. Broil, saute or fry. Tends to dryness so don't overcook.

Yellowfin Tuna (Ahi) - Higher-grade yellowfin is used for sashimi and other raw fish preparations. The pink to deep red flesh is meaty and full-flavored, even beefy. Best served rare or raw.

BILLFISH. This category includes varieties of marlin and swordfish.

Pacific Blue Marlin (Kajiki) - A sport-fishing favorite. Has firm amber flesh with mild to moderate flavor and slight acidity. Ideal for grilling; also used as sashimi.

Striped Marlin (Nairagi) - Considered the finest-eating marlin for its rich, refined flavor and moist, firm texture. Has light pink to orange-red flesh, the latter desirable for sashimi. Ideal for grilling; used in cold dishes, salads and gourmet smoked-fish products.

Spearfish (Hebi) - Also called shortbill spearfish. Has amber flesh somewhat softer than marlin with moderate, lemony flavor. Usually grilled but adaptable to other cooking methods.

Swordfish (Shutome) - Also called broadbill. The most widely distributed Pacific billfish, with a higher oil content and richer flavor than marlin. The pale pink flesh is mildly meaty and sweet with red blood meat along the loin or fillet that is similar to premium beef. In great demand. Ideal for grilling.

OTHER OCEAN FISH. The bass is among the fish in this section.

Chilean Sea Bass - A popular import, bright white with mildly rich, sweet flavor, large flakes and buttery aroma.

Hamachi - A light meaty fish with rich, nutty, sweet flavor. It is likened to king mackerel and tuna and like them is sometimes used for sashimi.

Mahimahi (Dolphinfish) - Hawaii's best-known fish. The firm, light pink flesh has a delicate aroma and mellow, sweet flavor with hints of lemon. (Less costly frozen fillets are imported from Asia and Latin America.)

Moonfish (Opah) - A versatile fish with four distinct areas of flesh - orangish along the backbone; pale pink at the belly; dark red cheeks and bright red breast flesh. Has a medium rich flavor and soft, creamy texture.

Pomfret (Monchong) - Also sickle or bigscale pomfret. A simple, moderately flavored fish. The clear white to pinkish flesh has a soft but flaky texture. Alternative to deepwater snappers or bottomfish. Good for grilling, broiling, sauteing and baking.

Wahoo (Ono) - This king mackerel kin is believed named for Oahu, using an early common spelling. It has a meaty yet fine texture and distinctive, almost citrus flavor some liken to poultry. Cook as you would other lean (low-fat) fish. Good for poaching.

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