Several years ago, I wrote a column titled “The Tastiest Fish.” I rated the best fish for the dinner table, which was a dangerous undertaking. I incurred the wrath of a few readers telling me that I probably didn’t know anything about cooking fish, and my taste buds had gone south. I also received a bunch of new recipes, and now I realize it’s time to update my ratings. I’m including oysters this time because I sometimes like oysters better than fish.
My oyster fetish probably started at a Florida Keys restaurant several decades ago. The maître d’ suggested a drink at the bar while we waited for a table. Never being one to pass up a very dry Bombay Sapphire martini, my buddies and I headed for the bar. The bartender suggested an appetizer while we waited for our table, and he suggested Oysters Moscow. I was just starting my long love affair with oysters, but I had never heard of Oysters Moscow. As it turned out, we never made dinner. We already had our fill after several dozen Oysters Moscow and a couple of martinis.
As it turned out, Oysters Moscow is a raw oyster on the half shell with a dollop of sour cream on top, which is also topped with caviar (red, black, or both). Served on a bed of crushed ice, it’s a sight to behold, and the taste is miraculous. When I returned to New Jersey, I tried to order Oysters Moscow, but no one ever heard of it, so I can now lay claim to introducing Oysters Moscow to New Jersey.
I thought I knew a lot about oysters until I picked up a copy of a new seafood cookbook: The ROW 34 Cookbook by Jeremy Sewall with Erin Byers Murray. It turns out that there’s a history of connecting caviar to oysters. There’s a wonderful recipe in the book for oysters with Hollandaise Sauce and Caviar. The authors also have a bunch of fish and shellfish recipes that go beyond fried fish. How about Fluke Crudo with Charred Scallions or Tuna Crudo with Ginger. If you’re not familiar with Crudo, it’s an Italian version of Sushi. I’ll also try some of their intriguing Ceviche recipes.
Bluefish has earned a reputation in our tri-state area for having a strong fishy taste for all the wrong reasons. I like bluefish and will eat all I can get. Avoid those 10-pounders and trim out all the dark red meat in the fillets. I only eat bluefish under five pounds. The authors must agree with me. The book includes a recipe for Baked Bluefish with Fennel and Spring Garlic. I’ll try that one with the next bluefish I catch. I just hope it’s a five-pounder.
The Row 34 Cookbook is not lightweight. It is a 230-page book with beautiful photographs of the recipes. It’s published by Rizzoli, New York. You can find it on Amazon.
But now, back to my fish ratings. In that initial column years ago, here’s how I rated saltwater fish:
No. 2-Yellowtail Snapper
No. 3-Summer Flounder (Fluke)
No. 5-Salmon (wild)
No. 8-Yellowfin Tuna
No. 10-Mako Shark
For freshwater fish, my ratings:
No. 2-Black Crappie
No. 5-Yellow Perch
As we get older, everything changes, especially our eating habits and taste buds. So I decided to review my list and make some changes.
Here are my new ratings: Hogfish is still No. 1. This is a weird-looking but wonderful tasty fish, especially breaded and jalapeño fried. It’s definitely No. 1!
Yellowtail Snapper is still No. 2. All snappers taste good, but the yellowtail is at the top of the list.
Summer Flounder or Fluke is no longer my No. 3 fish. Something has happened to me or the fish, but they just don’t taste that good anymore. My Fluke fillets seem to dry out too quickly. I’ll work on some new recipes. I’m dropping Flounder (Fluke) only one notch to No. 4.
I’m replacing Fluke with Grouper, the new No. 3. Like the snappers, all Groupers taste good. The 5 to 15-pounders are preferred for the dinner table. Stay away from heavyweight Groupers. Fish biologists claim these older fish may have consumed too many smaller fish, which feed on toxic algae. There is always the risk of Ciguatera poisoning. Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to people.
I rated Salmon No. 5 last time, but I’m now dropping that one off my list and replacing it with Tripletail, the new No. 5. Maybe because they hide under crab pots and are hard to catch, Tripletail is excellent for eating. Or perhaps because they look so much like Black Crappies, which are superb at eating. Only wild salmon got on my old list. Farm-raised salmon are tasteless.
The big surprise is the striped bass, which now makes my list as No. 6. I didn’t even put it on the list in my old column. Back then, I said the striped bass was one of the blandest fish I’ve ever eaten. Since then, I’ve tried several recipes and found one that works for me. Striped bass now makes my list at No. 6.
No. 7 still goes to Dolphin. The best recipe is encrusted with coconut, fried, and flambéed with Grand Mariner.
Yellowfin Tuna and Bluefin Tuna still hold the No. 8 spot. But I have to add a disclaimer. The worst thing you can do to fresh tuna is overcook it. The only way to eat tuna is Sushi or black-pepper coated and seared for 10 seconds on each side and served with a blend of Wasabi and Soy Sauce.
Cobia stays on the list at No. 9. Beer-battered and deep-fried chunks are my favorite. Grilling a Cobia steak tends to dry it out, but it’s OK unless you swab it with teriyaki sauce.
Recent regulations force me to drop Mako shark from the No. 10 spot. I’m replacing it with Wahoo. Don’t mistake it with King Mackerel. There’s a world of difference. Wahoo is white meat and firm, almost like Cobia and Striped Bass. King Mackerel may be fun to catch and a great fighter, but the dark-colored meat has no flavor. You can smoke King Mackerel, but eating it will leave you bad breath for days.
So here are my up-to-date final ratings for the tastiest fish:
No. 2-Yellowtail Snapper
No. 3- Grouper
No. 4- Flounder (Fluke)
No. 6-Striped Bass
No. 8-Yellowfin, Bluefin Tuna
For freshwater species, my ratings remain unchanged:
No. 2-Black Crappie
No. 3-Rainbow trout
No. 5-Yellow Perch
Here are a few fish that will never make my list: Amberjack, King Mackerel, Grunts, Bonito, Pike, and Pickerel
As I said last time, I suspect half the fisherman who read this will not agree with my choices. I admit that fish preparation and freshness may be critical factors. I also believe that where you eat your fish will make a difference. A jalapeño-fried hogfish at a tiki bar in the Florida Keys will always taste better than eating it in New Jersey.
So what is your favorite fish for dinner?
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