Fish are vertebrate aquatic animals. They bear gills but neither have digits nor true spines. There are more than 34,000 species worldwide, with the first one appearing as early as the Cambrian era. Thus, it has played a vital role not only in the ecosystem, but also to humans, as fish has been a significant source of protein and other nutrients. In the world of fishery and culinary, fish may include shellfish. Among the shellfish are crustaceans, echinoderms, and mollusks.
Still, fish is one of the most popular and sought-after foods in the world. It ranges from mild to full flavor. And, it is a versatile ingredient that can be used in almost all recipes. Not to mention that it’s beneficial to human health too!
Fish / Seafood Trivia
- Most fish species are cold-blooded; but, one species, known as the opah, is warm-blooded.
- Even though jellyfish, starfish, and crayfish carry the word “fish” in their names, they are not considered fish.
- Some flatfish can camouflage to hide themselves.
- A tuna fish can swim at about 43 miles per hour.
- Halibut was derived from the word hali, which means “holy,” and butte, which means “flatfish.” The fish was named such because it was only eaten during holy days.
- The National Go Fishing Day is celebrated every June 18.
Fish / Seafood Buying Guide
Buying fish can be extremely overwhelming as there are plenty of factors to consider. But, fish is a really good source of protein and nutrients that are essential to our body. Here at our Texas Real Food Promptuary, we’ll help you answer those burning questions one by one. But, let’s start with some basic guidelines first:
- You may have heard that almost all fish contain mercury. Well, it’s true. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can damage our brain and nervous system. It’s even more detrimental to young children and pregnant women. Thus, when buying fish, just remember that the smaller the fish (think of sardines, anchovies, scallops, or squids), the less mercury it contains. Large fish like tuna, king salmon, and swordfish have higher mercury contents. Would you like to know why that is? It’s because when big fish eats the smaller ones, they also absorb their prey’s mercury content. For example, when tuna eats a bunch of anchovies, the tuna gets all the mercury the anchovies have.
- Buy American. While Americans consume almost 5 billion pounds of seafood annually, 90% of which comes from countries that (sorry for the word) lack rigorous management laws. This includes China and Vietnam.
- Or better yet, buy local or eat local. If there’s a farm to table, there is also a boat to fork. You can even see the “day-boat” label in restaurant menus. This means that the fish is caught and delivered to the store or restaurant on the same day.
- When buying fish that are meant to be served raw, purchase the ones that are labeled “sushi-grade.” This label means that the fish has been pretreated to limit the risk of food-borne illnesses.
- As always, buy from reputable and trusted sellers. You can simply ask the fishmonger or the waiter if they offer a sustainable fish. Our Texas Real Food website also shows this information. Thus, feel free to check out each local producer to confirm.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, there are numerous species of fish out there in the market. Hence, to help you find the right one, we have categorized their varieties based on their flavors: mild, moderate, and full. In addition, we’ve also added their texture, flavor profile, and preparation tips.
Mild Flavored Fish:
These fish often have white fleshes. Their taste can be best described as “fish that doesn’t taste like fish.” Hence, they go well on marinades and toppings. They can also be deep or pan-fried. Tilapia, in addition, are best to put on tacos.
- Delicate texture includes the following: flounder, basa, hake, smelt, scup, rainbow trout, branzino, halibut, tilapia, cod, catfish, perch, and walleye.
- Medium texture includes the following: hybrid striped bass, black sea bass, European sea bass, bream, drum, haddock, Alaska pollock, Hoki, pink salmon, snapper, rockfish, and turbot.
- Firm texture includes the following: carp, Arctic char, dory, monkfish, grouper, pompano, sturgeon, wahoo, yellowtail, tilefish, and Dover sole.
Moderate Flavored Fish:
These fish have nice flavors that will not scare people away. They’re very versatile as well. Thus, if it’s your first time eating these fish, start by pairing them with basic sauces or marinades as simple as salt, pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil.
- Delicate texture includes the following: Kampachi, herring, anchovy, Moi, lingcod, orange roughy, Atlantic perch, Lake Victoria perch, and yellow perch.
- Medium texture includes the following: Atlantic salmon, coho salmon, sablefish, and skate.
- Firm texture includes the following: dogfish, snapper, barramundi, kingklip, cusk, mako shark, opah, swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and albacore tuna.
Full Flavored Fish:
These fish often have dark flesh. They are sometimes called oily fish. It has a very distinctive taste with a briny deep saltiness. For these varieties, it is better when a professional handles it as it can easily be destroyed. On the other hand, when properly prepared, they can be as delectable as any slab of steak. This is also the reason why full-flavored fish are the most expensive type. When cooking such varieties, it’s important to keep in mind that less is more. You don’t want to overpower the natural taste of these with some other ingredients.
- Delicate texture includes the following: sardines, Atlantic mackerel.
- Medium texture includes the following: chinook salmon, chum salmon, escolar, and American shad.
- Firm texture includes the following: bluefin tuna, sockeye salmon, blue marlin, mullet, Chilean sea bass, cobia, and barracuda.
Now that you know which varieties work for you, here are some guidelines on buying them according to how they are sold:
Fresh, Whole Fish:
- Smell the fish. Freshwater fish should smell like a clean pond while saltwater fish should smell briny (ocean smell).
- Check the body. You want to buy the ones that have a shiny skin with tight adhering scales. The eyes should be clear and bright, with no signs of blur. The tail should be moist and flat as well.
- Press the flesh or body. You want to buy the ones that spring back nicely when pressed.
Fresh, Fillet or Steaks:
- For white-fleshed fish, choose fillets that are translucent with a pinkish hue.
- For any other colored fish, the flesh should look dense with no gaps in between its layers.
- When buying plastic-wrapped fish, choose the ones with little to no liquid.
- Additional tip: you can ask the fishmonger to remove any pin bones, which run across the backbone.
- Choose the ones that are shiny and rock hard. Frozen fish with freezer burns, ice crystals, or frost, is not a good quality.
- Choose the ones that are sealed well. Pro tip: you can find them at the bottom of the freezer.
- Choose the ones that are three months old at the most.
Fish / Seafood Production & Farming in Texas
The aquaculture industry in the state of Texas makes an overall economic impact of more than 127 million dollars, considering all its industry spin-offs. Channel catfish is the leading aquaculture production crop in the state, followed by the Pacific white shrimp and hybrid striped bass. Many tilapia farms in Texas also produce at least 600,000 pounds each year. Baitfish and stocker fish are also considered to be big businesses in the state. On top of that, black crappie, white crappie, freshwater catfish, carp, sunfish, gar, and suckers can also be found here. Therefore, it’s easy to say that the Texas aquaculture industry shows great potential in helping the county offset its seafood trade deficit. It’s the fastest-growing sector of the country’s agriculture system. The state even has hefty research and extension programs, along with a strong support organization like the Texas Aquaculture Association (TAA).
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
While we know that nearly all fish contain mercury, there is actually a more severe toxin than that. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made chemicals that are also known as Aroclor. They are extremely toxic industrial compounds. Moreso, on infants, children, and pregnant women. But, they’re also harmful to adults. And although the United States banned such in 1977, PCBs take time to break down. Thus, it still persists in the environment at dangerous levels.
Fish are sold by the pound, kilo, or by the piece. They’re commonly packaged in hard plastics. These are plastics that aren’t flexible or elastic and are used in the production of trays and form-fill pack of fishery products. With this, fish are packaged in a tray with plastic overlay. However, since plastics have detrimental environmental effects, some raw fish are now being sold in environment-friendly containers and plastics. Even pouches for seafood are self-contained now. Moreover, some frozen ones also come in a thin plastic bag inside a carton – this can range up to 15 kg in weight. Canned fish are still available in the market, though.
Enjoying Fish / Seafood
It isn’t new to us that fish or seafood can be eaten raw. Sushi and sashimi are just two examples of this luxurious treat. While almost every fish is edible, not every one of them is edible raw. Thus, the following fish are best to use in raw preparations: salmon, sea bass, mackerel, tuna, swordfish, trout, eel, blue marlin, abalone, sweetfish, flatfish, cockle, halibut or flounder, baitfish, snapper, and porgies. Nevertheless, fish is a very versatile piece of protein. You can grill, roast, smoke, bake, and poach it. Also, you can mix it on pasta, sandwiches, tacos, hash browns, burgers, cakes, salads, and more.
The most important thing to remember about storing fish is to keep it refrigerated at all times – except for canned ones. Upon purchase, transfer the fish into an airtight container and refrigerate it for 1-2 days. Although the sell-by-date may expire during this period, rest assured that the fish will remain safe if it has been properly stored. Moreover, follow the general rule of leaving raw seafood on the counter. Do not leave it for more than 2 hours at room temperature. To further prolong the shelf life of raw fish, freeze it. When you do, make sure to freeze it upon purchase, before the date shown on the label. Also, it’ll help if you wrap the purchased fish once again as this may avoid freezer burns. Properly stored, fish can retain its freshness in the freezer for 2-3 months. On the other hand, cooked fish can be refrigerated for 3-4 days and frozen for up to 4 months.
Let’s get cooking!
With catfish being the leading aquaculture crop in Texas, it is no wonder that we can source this fish everywhere in the state. Most of the rivers, lakes, and ponds have it. But, you don’t have to go to a restaurant just to get a restaurant-style meal. Below is an easy and quick recipe for fried catfish, Texas-style!
Yield: 6 servings
- ¾ cup full or whole milk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tsp seasoning salt
- ½ tsp white pepper, ground
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal, finely ground
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp black pepper, ground
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- Vegetable oil, as needed
- 6 ea catfish fillets (roughly 4-5 lbs in total)
- Tartar Sauce (optional)
- Mix the first 4 ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
- Mix the second 7 ingredients in another medium-sized bowl or shallow plate.
- Heat up a wide and deep cast iron and fill up with vegetable oil. For pan-fried, the oil should be around 1 ½ inch deep. For deep-fried, double the amount and come up with a cast-iron filled with 3 inches deep oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350ºF or 175ºC.
- Meanwhile, slice each fillet half-lengthwise. Pat dry.
- Dip the fillets, one at a time, using your non-dominant hand, in the egg mixture. Shake off excess liquid. Then, put them in the seasoned cornmeal. Using your dominant hand, coat both sides with this dry mixture. Likewise, shake off excess cornmeal.
- As soon as the oil reaches its desired temperature, put the breaded catfish fillets in batches. It is important to avoid overcrowding, so if two fillets fit in your cast iron, make sure that they don’t touch each other.
- Fry until the fillets are golden brown (roughly 3 minutes each side). Then, transfer them into a wire rack to let the excess oil drip. Rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with tartar sauce on the side if desired. Enjoy!