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By David Bonom, March 2004

Fish is a good, healthy substitution for red meat in your diet. Here are some ideas on how to select, store, and cook the most popular varieties.

Many of us grew up with a notion of fish based on school-cafeteria fish sticks and frozen breaded fish fillets. But today the variety of fish at the market is so broad, there is a fish to suit anyone's palate. Fresh fish varies enormously, from assertive salmon to subtle tilapia; from buttery, delicate halibut to meaty tuna and swordfish. Arctic char, mahimahi, amberjack, and pompano are a few of the lesser-known varieties, but they are now more widely available and ready to add to your repertoire. Here is how to select the freshest fish possible, store it, and cook it.


Of the many varieties available, we chose 12 fish based on their flavor, availability, ease of cooking, and popularity. Seasons affect availability, but you should be able to get most of these fish at some point during the year. Technology and transportation now allow people in the middle of the country to buy fresh ocean fish, people on the Atlantic to buy Pacific fish, and vice versa.
  • Amberjack: Full flavor and firm flesh make amberjack, which stands up to more assertive flavors, ideal to grill, pan-fry, or broil. Amberjack is available in fillets or steaks year-round, especially in the South, since it comes primarily from the Gulf of Mexico. One 4.5-ounce serving of amberjack has 135 calories and 2.3 grams of fat.

  • Arctic Char (farmed freshwater): Arctic char, most often sold in fillets, has a distinctive pink flesh, with a rich flavor similar to salmon and steelhead trout. You can substitute arctic char for salmon in almost any recipe, and vice versa. Like salmon, this fish lends itself to most any cooking method. A 4.5-ounce serving of arctic char has 234 calories and 10.1 grams of fat.

  • Catfish (farmed freshwater): Farmed catfish is available fresh year-round and accounts for close to 99 percent of the catfish sold in the United States. Catfish's sweet flavor and firm texture make it ideal for grilling, roasting, pan-frying, and braising. It can also substitute for other firm-flesh fish, such as pompano. A 4.5-ounce serving of catfish has 194 calories and 10.2 grams of fat.

  • Cod: The darling of New England (the Massachusetts State House features a 218-year-old, life-sized wooden carving of a cod), cod is a flaky white fish with mild, sweet flavor -- so mild, in fact, those who are wary of seafood tend to gravitate to it. Cod is often used to make fish cakes and fish sticks (along with pollock) and frequently appears in chowders and stews. Now rebounding from shortages in the Atlantic, cod is plentiful year-round. A 4.5-ounce serving has 134 calories and 1.1 grams of fat.

  • Halibut: Popular because of its mild flavor, this flaky white fish should be prepared with subtle flavors that will not overwhelm its delicacy. The Atlantic halibut fishery is virtually extinct, but Pacific halibut is plentiful and is available fresh from March to November. It is sold frozen the rest of the year. A 4.5-ounce serving of halibut has 179 calories and 3.8 grams of fat.

  • Mahimahi: Originally called dolphinfish, the Hawaiian name mahimahi was adopted to alleviate confusion that this fish is related to the aquatic mammal. Popular because of its versatility, mahimahi pairs well with fruits and spicy sauces. It grills, broils, pan-fries, and braises beautifully. A 4.5-ounce serving of mahimahi has 139 calories and 1.2 grams of fat.

  • Pompano: Pompano has a delicate, sweet flavor. While there is no season for pompano, catch limits affect its availability; catfish makes a suitable substitute when pompano is scarce. Grill, broil, or pan-fry pompano. A 4.5-ounce serving has 269 calories and 15.5 grams of fat.

  • Red Snapper: The most prized member of the large snapper family is American red snapper, which has a pronounced sweet flavor, similar to shrimp. Many varieties of snapper are available year-round, and though they may not be quite as sweet as American red snapper, they are excellent substitutions. A 4.5-ounce serving has 163 calories and 2.2 grams of fat.

  • Salmon: Most of what we get at the market is farmed Atlantic salmon. While wild Atlantic salmon is virtually extinct, wild Pacific salmon is still available. As salmon farming has become an increasingly bigger business, the fish has become more affordable. The high fat content of salmon keeps it moist when cooked by almost any method -- you can pan-fry, grill, roast, steam, poach, or smoke it. A 4.5-ounce serving of farmed coho salmon has 224 calories and 10.5 grams of fat.

  • Sole / Flounder: Although sole are actually members of the flounder family, the words sole and flounder are often used interchangeably. (You are likely to see flounder at the fish market, and sole on restaurant menus.) Sauté this flaky white fish with lemon and a little butter to enhance its delicate flavor. It is harvested year-round, but turbot, plaice, or fluke (sometimes called summer flounder) substitute well. A 4.5-ounce serving of sole/flounder has 149 calories and 2 grams of fat.

  • Swordfish: Popular for its mild flavor and meaty texture, swordfish became endangered in the early 1990s, and in 1997 conservation groups called on chefs and consumers to boycott it. The swordfish population is slowly recovering with careful management of its fishery. Fresh swordfish appears in markets year-round, usually as steak, and is best pan-fried or grilled. A 4.5-ounce serving has 198 calories and 6.6 grams of fat.

  • Tilapia (Farmed Freshwater): Tilapia has a firm texture and mild flavor (some argue that it has almost none) that make it a great canvas on which to paint layers of flavor. Like cod, this is a great fish for people who say they do not like fish. Readily available year-round, tilapia can be pan-fried, broiled, baked, or braised in a flavorful broth or sauce. A 4.5-ounce serving has 106 calories and about 1 gram of fat.

  • Trout (Farmed Freshwater): Trout's flavor ranges from subtle and mild to sweet. Most of the trout sold at markets is rainbow trout, although you will also see such other varieties as brook trout. At its best, trout is subtle; prepare it simply to avoid masking its flavor. A 4.5-ounce serving has 243 calories and 10.8 grams of fat.

  • Tuna: The many species of tuna vary in flavor and texture. Costly sashimi-grade tuna -- so named because this is the best quality for sushi and sashimi -- has a clean, subtle flavor, a delicate texture, and is higher in fat. The tuna most widely available in grocery stores tends to be meatier, with a more assertive flavor. The fish is ideal for grilling or searing, which caramelizes the outside and leaves the interior moist. Many chefs think tuna is best seared on the outside and left almost raw inside. It is less forgiving than other fish, and when overcooked can be dry and tough. Tuna is sold fresh and frozen year-round. A 4.5-ounce serving of yellowfin tuna has 178 calories and 1.6 grams of fat.


  • Fresh Fillets or Steaks: This is the easiest and best way to buy fish. Do not be afraid to ask at the fish market or the fish counter in the supermarket when the fish came in, and do not buy anything more than one day old -- especially if you do not plan to cook it that night. Look for fish that is blemish-free and neither slick nor soggy. Fresh fish will be firm and spring back when touched. The fish should smell subtly of the water from which it came. If it has a "fishy" smell, it is not fresh. Avoid fish displayed directly on ice, since the contact can cause quality to deteriorate; ask if there is more in the back. Buying fish that has been frozen at sea is your next best alternative.

  • Frozen Fish: When possible, purchase vacuum-packed frozen fish, and look for "once frozen" on the label. Avoid any fish that has symptoms of freezer burn, such as brown or dry edges. Defrost frozen fish in the refrigerator overnight.

  • Whole Fresh Fish: This is the most economical way to purchase fish. When you buy a whole fish, look for clear, glossy eyes; shiny, red gills; and a firm body, free of any dark blemishes. The tail should not be dried out or curled. Ask the fishmonger to fillet the fish and portion it for you. (Most Cooking Light recipes call for 6-ounce raw fillets or steaks, which yield 4.5-ounce portions.) Cook what you need and freeze the rest. Ask for the bones so you can make fish stock for soups and stews -- the bones will freeze, and the stock will, too.

  • Storing Fish: Buy fish on your way out of the store, take it directly home, and cook (or freeze) it within 24 hours. Keep the fish as cold as possible until you are ready to cook it by storing it in the coldest part of your refrigerator.


  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Information: Recipe Index

  • MoonDragon's Health Information: Nutrition Basics Index - Nutrition Basics covers vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, and other supplements used to maintain proper health and nutrition.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Food Groups - Vegetable and animal protein foods, serving sizes, and food groups used to assist in planning a balanced daily dietary intake of sufficient protein to prevent potential complications of pregnancy.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Sample Meal Patterns & Sample Menu Suggestions - Sample meal patterns and example menu to in planning healthy, nutritionally balanced meals and snacks.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Vegetarian Food Guide - Dietary guidelines and information about complimentary plant protein combinations for vegetarian-vegan diets with a description about types of vegetarian diets.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Nutritional Profile - Questions to assess eating habits and to assist nutritional counseling.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Protein Values of Common Foods - A list of protein foods with quantities needed to assist in assessments of protein intake.

  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Guide Information: Pregnancy Diet Intake Worksheet - A worksheet we use to assess daily dietary intake of clients. The client uses a sheet to keep track of everything she eats and drinks in a day, quantity consumed along with time and place she ate or drank her nourishment. These sheets are then gathered by the midwife for total nutritional analysis and assessment. Nutritional counseling assists clients in planning healthy dietary habits and preventing anemia, preeclampsia or toxemia, and other nutritionally-based problems.

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