Written Nov 8 2005

Eating Fish
It's been in the news a lot recently - eating fish is good for you. Sure, there is the mercury concern,and I would be wary of certain closed bodies of water, but far in large, fish is one of the healthiest foods you can consume. This, I believe, is in large part because it is wild - free from hormones, processed feed, and chemical preservatives.

Of course, it's not just any fish they say. Preferably, fish higher in Omega 3 is better. Omega 3 is found in fish oil, so it goes naturally that the oilier the fish is, the more beneficial it is to consume. Salmon, tuna, swordfish are often mentioned, but truth be told, herring, bluefish, and mackerel are the highest in Omega 3. The problem is that the typical New Englander has grown up on a steady diet of cod, haddock, and flounder - flaky, white, delicate flavored fish - with the lowest fish oil content of most species. I know of many a Yankee who would never think of venturing away from these favorites. And, because of this, incredible pressure is placed on these species, resulting in a chronic overfishing problem. Sometimes this relunctance to consume a different species is a result of having been served a poorly prepared alternative at one point, and other times it may result from not knowing that a particular species is not only edible, but when prepared correctly, offers a unique taste that can expand your menu from the same fish dish boredom.

That is the purpose of this focus article. To introuduce you to new species that are not only edible, but offer a unique taste that will allow you to expand your fish recipes. This list only covers saltwater fish that you can catch out of any south shore port. To me, those are the species you can trust. I have no idea where Chilean Sea Bass or Orange Roughy comes from, or how it is handled once caught. Why we import such species is beyond me, when you consider that we have the best fish anywhere in the sea right here off our coast. My list starts with species most similar to the cod, haddock, and flounder. Start at the top, and as you enjoy each new species, try the next one in the list. If you reach the end, you will have strayed far away from the typical New England fish-n-chips. Bon Appetit!

Did you know that 90% of all packaged fish sticks are actually made from pollock. Go ahead, check the ingredients - Gortons©, Mrs. Pauls©, Van de Kamps© - all pollock. The fish you loved as a kid has a taste and texture very similar to the cod. Which is not surprising as the pollock is a very close cousin, eating a similar diet and living in the same general area. The taste is a little, and I do stress little, stronger and the color is a tad darker. However, taste is almost identical and you can prepare it the same way you do cod. Price is often half that of cod or haddock.

Another close cousin of the cod is the hake. It's flavor, texture, and color is actually more delicate than the cod. Prepared incorrectly, it's virtually tasteless. It doesn't freeze and thaw well and is much more flaky and far less firm than cod. Nonetheless, it is an excellent alternative to cod and when prepared with some flavorful ingredients, is simply delectible. About 25 to 40% less per pound than cod or haddock.

Very similar to hake, but with a bit more flavor and firmer texture. The meat holds up better in stews and chowders than hake and it doesn't get too chewy if overcooked. Cusk is rarely sold in stores, mostly due to it's very limited supply.

One of the best kept secrets if you ask me is the taste, texture, and color of the wolffish fillet. It is simply devine. The diet of the wolffish consists largely of lobster and clams, and the sweet taste and texture of those seafood staples is absorbed into the meat of the wolffish. However, how many people are going to purchase something called "wolf fish," which is why you'll never see this available in stores. You will, however, find ocean catfish, which is the marketing name for this fish. In fact, you'll see a lot of this name changing going on in the marketplace. Some species simply don't sound appealing or they're extremely ugly and the sellers don't want you to know what the fish looks like, so they change the name. One of the most popular fish at the market today is the Patagonian Toothfish, but consumers only know it as "Chilean Sea Bass."

Just when you thought that Wolffish is the ugliest fish you ever saw, comes the Monkfish. This fish takes the top award as far as the ugliest fish to live in the sea. The tail is the only part of the fish eaten and is nearly identicial in flavor, texture, and color as the wolffish fillet. Bright white in color, when the meat of the monkfish is boiled and dipped in butter it nearly tastes like lobster.

Ocean Pout
This fish surprises me a bit. Although I've seen thousands of them caught in the nets of commercial ground fishermen, I can't ever remember seeing it available in your local grocery store. However, if you find yourself catching a few while you're cod fishing, don't throw them back just because they're ugly. Their meat is bright white and very firm, making it an excellent fish to cut into chunks and toss in a chowder. Be careful not to overcook it, and make sure you skin it, or you'll end up with a very rubbery and extremely chewy piece of fish.

Spiny Dogfish
Of course no one is going to purchase and consume a species known as "dogfish," so that is why you will find this fish marketed as "Cape Shark" either at the grocery store or the restuarant. These are those pesky small sharks that swim all over the south shore during the summer. When handled properly and iced immediately after capture, their meat is white and mild to the taste. I've heard it compared to the popular mahi-mahi in both taste and texture. Improperly handled, however, and it takes on an ammonia-like taste and scent. Interestingly, the spiny dogfish is the primary species used in Great Britain for their famous "fish-'n-chips.

When the wings of the skate are punched with a cookie cutter, they make "poor-man's scallops." Can't say I've ever tried this, but those that have swear by it. In fact, I've been told that when properly prepared, the only way you can tell the difference between skate wings and actual scallops is in the direction of the lines. Cut a scallop in half, and the texture lines go up and down; cut a skate wing chunk in half and the lines go across.

Striped Bass
Striped bass begins the the "non-whitefish" species. Fish that must be handled more carefully and prepared more promptly that the typical New England whitefish species. You don't want to repeatedly freeze and thaw it, as each succssive thaw will render the fish stronger tasting. However, when handled properly, striped bass can be one of the tastiest fish that you'll ever cook.

As you get down the list here, we come to fish that walk the fine line between bait and food. Bluefish are much stronger tasting and a much oilier fish than all the others listed above. This oil is extremely rich in the all important Omega 3, but it doesn't matter if it tastes like bait on the plate. The key to bluefish is how it is treated the moment it is boated. Any fish that fights like crazy, unfortunately dies quickly and deteriorates rapidly. If you intend to eat this fish, they must be dressed immediately after capture and placed on a bed of ice. Then, when filleted, the skin should be removed and as much of the bloodline removed at that time. If the fillet is gray with little dark red, you have done a good job. Marinate the fillet 12-24 hours in Italian dressing and you will have one awesome tasting fillet to put on the grill.

Now, we really begin to blur the lines between bait and food. Due to our past of consuming cod and haddock, few New Englanders find mackerel appealing to eat in any form. That's too bad because mackerel can be real treat when handled and prepared correctly. It is naturally stronger and darker than bluefish and should be marinated, smoked, or broiled in lemon juice to cut down on the strong flavor.

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