ChefTalk.com would like to thank Chef Charles Weber of Riva Restaurant in Chicago, Il. for sharing some of his fast knowledge about fish. Recently Chef Weber put together a comprehensive document of fish descriptions for his wait staff to help educate them about the subject. At our last Chef's Journal we asked Chef Weber if he would share it with the ChefTalk community and he was more than happy to do so. The list is very comprehensive, in fact, the list is so comprehensive that we have broken it up into two parts.
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Amberjack: This fish is found throughout the Atlantic. From the western coast of Africa to the Mediterranean, but it is our East Coast that supplies us with this fish. Steadily available from cape cod to Brazil. It is a large fish capable of reaching 200 lb.. The best size to eat however is the fish 20 lbs and less. In Florida where a majority of the fish we buy comes from smoked amberjack is a delicacy. It is also excellent in the Floridian fish chowders. The flesh has the flavor and texture similar to a cross between grouper and mahi-mahi.
Anchovies: Anchovies, like sardines are members of the herring family. While different species are found all over the world. True anchovies, however hail from the Mediterranean. Anchovies are traditionally salted, cured, smoked, canned, pounded into paste and made into Asian/Thai fish sauce. There is also one form we use occasionally; an Italian white anchovy cured, salted and packed in white wine and olive oil.
Barracuda: The barracuda is a vicious predator fish dangerous even to man! The fish if abundant in Florida as well as the West Coast but the fish we buy are direct from Hawaii-a much higher price but an unbelievable quality and freshness. The dark flesh cooks up in very firm large flakes. It has a rich full flavor. A great grilling fish we also use in Hawaiian and Caribbean styled specials.
Bronzini: This Mediterranean Sea bass is served whole and filleted tableside by the waiter. It is similar in flavor and texture to the red snapper we also offer in the 2lb range. We either roast the fish in a special preparation or serve it whole grilled.
Bouillabaisse: The true Bouillabaisse is made with at least 12 different kinds of fish native only to the Mediterranean. There are however hundreds of variations all over the world. They all translate into a richly flavored seafood soup filled with assorted fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Classically served with a garlicky mayonnaise crouton.
Catfish: While there are both fresh and salt water catfish available on the market, the ones commonly used are most likely farm raised in the south. The firm and dense when raw but flaky and moist when cooked meat is best pan-fried or deep fried in the fillet form. We don't recommend this as a grill fish but do offer it as creative specials with a Creole flair.
Caviar: The production of caviar has been around for thousands of years. Traditionally and still heavy produced in Russia-the best quality caviar in the world. Today it is produced in several key areas such as china, California, the Midwest, Iran and others. Ultimately it is the eggs of different species of the sturgeon fish. They include Beluga, Ossetra, Sevruga, Other sources of caviar- although not technically "caviar" include; paddlefish and other fish such as flying fish, salmon, trout, whitefish and others. The eggs are cleaned, treated with salt to some degree or another as a preservative and passed through screens then packed. The best quality caviars are labeled as Malosol-comes from a Russian phrase meaning "little salt". These are the only caviars labeled as fresh and must be under constant refrigeration.
Cioppino: A fish stew originating in SanFrancisco. Originally created by Italian immigrant fisherman. The dish is prepared with the catch of the day to include crab, clams, shrimp and firm fleshed bay area fish. It also has diced tomatoes, fennel, onions and green pepper, simmered with white wine, tomato puree, garlic and bay leaf. Finished with cracked pepper and fresh basil.
Conch: This animal is a gastropod, a mollusk with a single large muscular foot. The resemble Huge snails with very thick strong shells, that are also brilliantly colored. They prefer Tropical areas one type is found in the Florida Keys, another is found in the Bahamas and yet another is found in the Caribbean. As with abalone the meat is very tough, it must be trimmed up quite a bit then the meat must be tenderized either by pounding it or grinding it. It is used in chowders, fritters-deep fried and salads. The flavor is mildly clam like yet distinctively conch.
Dorade: The French name for any member of the sea breams or porgies family. Similar to the Mediterranean Sea bass. At RIVA we sometimes sell this fish in the just under 2lb. range as a whole fish special preparation. It is a distinctive treat when available, it is a very elegant fish.
Dover Sole: An international favorite! This famous flatfish is served as a 28oz. Whole fish. We serve it plain grilled or baked on a cedar plank with a lemon-honey glaze. Either preparation is filleted tableside. Our fish as well as all commercial "Dover sole" come from the Mediterranean to Denmark. It produces a unique fillet of fine texture and flavor.
Escabeche: Essentially pickled fish. This particular recipe is of Spanish origin, actually coming down from Roman times. Traditional recipes vary from town to town but are all based on a very simple recipe calling for the freshest tuna, corvina or mackerel, many firm fleshed fish can be substituted at you preference. The fish are browned in a pan and then marinated in a spicy cold marinade consisting of olive oil and vinegar with bay leaf and spices.
Halibut: A common name for any of the three species of righteye flounders- the Atlantic, pacific, and the Greenland halibuts, as well as one member of the lefteye flounder family- the California halibut. They have firm white flesh with wide flakes, and a rich sweet yet meatlike taste. The best quality of halibut we could find is Alaskan halibut, the season cuts off in the middle of winter and resumes again later in spring. It is one of the most popular sellers at RIVA. We offer it as a grilled fish, which suits it very well. We also offer several signature specials such as: Pumpkinseed seared and served with butternut squash risotto and an apple cider sauce.
Mackerel: Typically considered an oily fish, it can vary with the species and the season. Much more popular in Europe than in the United States. Primarily due to Americans non- acceptance of stronger fish. While the meat is definitely full flavored it is also delicious and moist. At RIVA we occasionally offer it as a grilled fish-whole if we can get the right size and run Mediterranean typed specials with it as well.
Paella: The national dish of Spain! Its contents will vary a bit from region to region and each one argues that it is their's that is "correct". The fun about eating paella is the many different flavors and textures that would never ordinarily be combined are done so a wonderful way, and quite delicious as well. The paella must be made in a large flat pan, special "paella" pans designed specifically to make the dish are available and are made of metal or copper usually. It is made by simmering firm fleshed white fish, mussels, lobster, shrimp, chicken, ham, pork etc&with vegetables and rice in a tomato based stock with garlic and saffron.
Pompano: This fish is found predominantly in the Atlantic from North Carolina to Florida to the gulf of Mexico. They are all in the 1 ½ to 2 lb range an are very expensive on the market. There are several closely related species found in tropical waters and are considered a sportfish in Florida. They are a little fatty but cook up nicely with a firm and delicate white flesh that is of a remarkable flavor that is a highly regarded.
Salt Cod: This is a mainstay in some Mediterranean cuisine's, it is simply boneless codfish fillets are cured in a coarse sea salt brine then either sun or air dried. To reconstitute the fish before cooking soak it in cold water overnight plus, changing the water frequently.
Sashimi: A generic Japanese term for raw fish cut into various forms, usually served with soy sauce for dipping and wasabi & pickled ginger as accompaniments. At RIVA we serve a "seared" sashimi, a piece of tuna is seared in a very hot pan then sliced and served essentially raw.
Snook: Considered a Florida gamefish it is not a heavily commercially caught fish. It is occasionally caught and sold in limited batches. It is an excellent fish similar to grouper in look and a meaty flavor similar to snapper. While it is an important foodfish in south America it has never hit it off here. When available we offer it as an excellent grilled fish and also some fun specials.
Sole: This term refers to a wide variety of flatfish found all over the world. From the west coast there are butter, curlfin, English, petrale rex, sand dabs soles. From the east coast the only one I come up with is the lemon sole. All soles have basically sweet delicate pure white meat. We seldom serve sole at RIVA due to its fragile nature and our inability to treat it properly.
Sea Urchin: This spiny delicacy is unknown to most of the American population. It looks like a pin-cushion usually between 3 and 4 inches across. Inside, the creamy delicious orange colored roe is in heavy demand in Europe, being used in even the simplest of French foods as well as being enjoyed raw in markets and oyster bars all over the Mediterranean. It is even popular at sushi restaurants where it is enjoyed raw, wrapped in nori sheets. It is seen occasionally at RIVA but is quite a sophisticated food and commands a very high price.