Updated: Jul 19
We eat all kinds of seafood. Eleven species of fish stand out as especially delicious (and expensive) and are definitely worth seeking.
A great number of us eat more seafood in the summertime. If fish is a regular component of your diet, then you probably know that Tilapia is great for a quick and inexpensive weekday dinner... and maybe that wild Blue Catfish is a tasty and cost-effective treat that works beautifully with New Orleans-style Cajun/Creole seasoning. But if you are blessed (or cursed) with very exquisite (i.e., expensive) tastes... if you seek, on occasion, the finest affordable extravagances... if you are the kind of home chef who occasionally dabbles in, say, Wagyu beef and Mangalitsa pork... then this list of luxury fishes is for you.
We've confined our compilation to actual fish (i.e., no shellfish) and we've eliminated fishes notable for characteristics other than culinary value, such as Marlin, a perfectly edible fish that is way more exciting to catch than to eat; and the Japanese Fugu Fish, which, if improperly prepared, is extremely poisonous. Still other delicacies from Neptune's realm, such as Hamachi and Sea Bream, we consider just a little too obscure. The fishes that made our list regularly appear on the finest restaurant menus and, while not often found in supermarkets, are generally available from premium online purveyors.
But before we get to our list...
When shopping for fabulous fish, it is important to understand the ramifications of these three F-words: FARMED, FRESH, and FROZEN. That's because a little knowledge is often worse than none. Back when I worked at a seafood counter, I encountered many a customer who, having blithely skimmed an article that morning, demanded that their fish be A.) wild rather than farmed; B.) never frozen; and C.) caught that same morning.
Dear Reader, it's Grumpy Old Mansplaining time.
When my old seafood counter customers, bless their hearts– often people with considerably more buying power than knowledge– demanded wild fish and haughtily sneered at the mere mention of aquaculture, I sometimes inquired whether they also insisted on wild chicken and beef. And then, if they hadn't stormed off and reported my insolence to the owners, I would explain that when it comes to fish there are good farms as well as bad farms... and that some fishes, such as Atlantic Salmon, are absolutely unavailable wild. (Atlantic Salmon was declared an endangered species 75 years ago, and all commercial fishing for it has been outlawed since... and therefore, by definition, all Atlantic Salmon available at stores or restaurants comes from a fish farm.) The takeaway? Educate thyself about fish farming. And then shop at stores that take seriously the origins and the chain-of-custody of their seafood, both wild and farmed.
And what, exactly, does "fresh" mean? The answer is not so simple. Those who've read The Perfect Storm might recall that the Andrea Gail sank on her 40th day at sea with 20 tons of gutted swordfish in her hold. Had the 70-foot longliner and her crew safely returned to Gloucester, all of the swordfish, from the first-caught to the last, would have gone to market together as "fresh"... and no one would have known the difference. How is this possible? Because their catch was handled professionally and properly, i.e., packed in saltwater ice, which is continuously produced by a machine on the boat and maintains the fish a low enough temperature (< 30ºF) to preserve perfect freshness for an astonishingly long time. Other classes of fishing boats, such as those that must venture even farther from shore for, say, Chilean Sea Bass, are often equipped to immediately portion, freeze, and package their catch at sea. The big takeaway? Know what days your store gets your fish of choice... and more importantly, also know which fishes freeze well and which ones don't. (Interestingly, DOVER Sole freezes beautifully, while lesser variants of Sole do not.) For those fishes that do freeze well, freshly frozen fish is always better than old, never-frozen fish.
So, after careful consideration and research, here's our final list of the "Ocean's Eleven." In future installments we'll be posting detailed information (such as sourcing and recipes) for two or three of these at a time.
In alphabetical order,
CHILEAN SEA BASS
KING SALMON (a.k.a. CHINOOK)
SABLEFISH (a.k.a. BLACK COD)
Let the arguments begin.