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May 19, 2007 08:50 AM

What Florida fish are best to eat?,the best way to cook each?

Growing up in the desert ,i didn't eat a lot of fish, now living here in Fl, it is readily avl., i have tried some, Grouper,Tuna,Whiting,etc. Is there a resource out there that can tell me what fish are mild, i.e. ,i love Grouper,but Salmon(not a Fl fish i know)gross's me out as it is way to strong, i would like to stick mainly to Fl species,both salt,and fresh water, a big plus would be also having the info as to the best method of cooking each, I hope this is not too vague a question,and would appreciate any info,or direction given,thank you.

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  1. be careful with grouper being sold in Florida right now, it is NOT grouper but a nile fish grouper style. Might be snook. I did spend a bit of time researching this and there have been cases of it being sold as grouper.

    9 Replies
    1. re: smartie

      This has been addressed by a couple of Hounds further South on this thread but it may get lost in the mix; SNOOK IS NOT HARVESTED COMMERCIALLY IN FLORIDA, it's illegal and has been for many years. If someone was to switch fish on me, and could do it with a legal catch, Snook would sure get my vote.

      1. re: Harp00n

        I think the whole "snook" idea came about when Tilapia was first introduced. Nobody recognized the name, so they labeled it "african snook" or just "snook". I remember one year at the John's Pass Seafood Festival, there was a big sign for "Fried Snook"!!! I almost fell over - til I realized it was clever marketing by Hubbard and the manufacturer.

        1. re: joan

          Thanks for the vignette, Joan. As the Oceans' stocks of fish, formerly thought of as unlimited, are depleted they sure do get "inventive", don't they? Nobody ever heard of Chilean Sea Bass two decades ago and now the real one, Patagonian Toothfish, are rapidly being over-fished. These big ugly fishies grow up to 8 ft. long, so there's no doubting that rechistening them as "Bass" helps the marketing. :-))

        2. re: Harp00n

          The same is true for speckled trout and redfish in Texas, no commercial harvesting. I catch my own, thank you. We have a similar problem in Houston. Restaurants sell red snapper at a cheap price, (alarm bells sounding), or label it bay snapper,no such thing I know of, at least in Texas. It turns out this fish is tilapia, sheepshead, or some other rough fish. I had a waiter in a restaurant in Galveston, before it was obliterated, unfortunately, by Ike, tell me the speckled trout was harvested locally. I knew better, but tried it anyway. It was trout, but my semi-educated guess was it came from Mexico, and was a day or two past prime.

          1. re: James Cristinian

            Oh that reminds me of my favorite "local" fish issue ....My husband and I were in a restaurant in Bermuda (where we live) and a waiter said the local catch of the day was SALMON....we had to laugh, we tried to correct the waiter but he was having no part of it kept insisting the salmon was a local Bermuda fish...mind you my husband is a fisherman in here and has been his entire life as was his grandfather!

            Finally we called the chef out (who we knew) and the waiter was corrected. :)

            1. re: James Cristinian

              I did a six month internship in New Orleans back in '83 and I think Redfish was the fish I miss the most. Now here in Ohio It's been almost 25 years since I've had it. Hard to beat just broiled with a little butter, lemon and worchestershire served up with some parsleyed new potatoes and green onions Au Gratin. I do miss it so. You're a luckdog for be able to snag in on your own.

              1. re: garfish

       choose the screenname of the humble garfish. ;-).


                hmm, why did i think gar were ugly fish when i was growing up? these photos look ok! were they a "nuisance" fish, cutting lines or anything? i just recall they were not liked in sw fla.

            2. re: Harp00n

              However, snook can be purchased and shipped to Florida from Africa. I know a restaurant in Florida that serves it.

            3. re: smartie

              Snook is prohibited in commercial trade in Florida, it is a "recreational" fish only. Having said thAt it is highly a highly sought after table fish. Get to know a good bay/beach fisherman if you want to taste this superb catch.
              There are also many sub species of grouper. The cheapest and, in my opinion, the poorest eating/tasting is Red Grouper. This is a relatively shallow water grouper, more plentiful than Gag, Black, and Yellow edge grouper. My problem with the Red Grouper that I catch and clean is the numerous worms in the flesh; although most markets and restaurants do not trim these "critters" out of the filets since they tend to disappear in cooking; personally, I do not eat fluke worms, etc.
              My fav grouper is yellow edge, rarely available at fish markets, as this denizen of deep water, (habitat at 500+ feet), has a very firm white flesh, does not stick on grill grates as readily as Red and Gag Grouper, and for me it has a somewhat sweeter taste than the others. It can be targeted in the Gulf out a considerable distance from Sarasota.
              Occasionally it is available at A P Bell wholesale fish market in Cortez, Fl, they buy from over 50 commercial day boats and long liners.
              My preference in fish that I catch locally or get from local commercial fisherman are; starting with #1 POMPANO, caught in the surf and bay #2 YELLOW EDGE GROUPER, way out and deep, #3 COBIA, caught close to beach in the Gulf, #4 AMERICAN RED SNAPPER, usually out about 20 miles and last MANGROVE SNAPPER, grilled whole on the grill, around docks, bridges and other structure.

            4. You might want to try red snapper.
              It is mild, white, flaky.
              I am not a big fish eater but snapper works for me.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mcbinfla

                I remember catching Croakers in FL and cooking them simply on the grill with some peppers and onions. Tasted great to me ! I have also had Cobia that was very tasty.

              2. Funny my wife dislikes salmon also but loves other fish. What part of Fla are you living? I'm in Dunedin, central west coast. Access to good fresh fish can be spotty even in a state surrounded by water. Grouper is a favorite. Yes there has been a lot of grouper imposters in restaurants but not so common in markets where you can see the fish or fillets. All snappers are mild and wonderful if FRESH. The larger fish will have larger flakes of flesh. Down south yellow tail snappers are a treat. Here I use to shoot magrove snapper. Hog snappers are really good and mild but they are not true snappers. They are in the wrasse family. To me they all taste very much the same. Red snapper is harder to find unless it's caught in deeper waters. We have a few good seafood markets that get snapper and grouper off local boats so it's fresh, good and has a brisk turn over. Yo will pay dearly for both grouper and fresh snapper but they are very tasty. Cobia to me is a more oily fish so it's richer flavor may be off putting. Same with Spanish mackerel, king fish, amberjack or wahoo if you ever come across it. I agree that pompano is a wonderful fish and it's larger cousin the permit is also fantastic but you won't see these very often in you local markets. You should try all of these though so you can develop better appreciation of fish. If you want ultra mild white fish go with tilapia

                9 Replies
                1. re: scubadoo97

                  Scubadoo97, I generally like your perspective, which is from underwater with a lot of "bottom time" and experience. With that, I am surprised that you would recommend tilapia, which is farmed in warm surface pens that are basically fecal soup.
                  Somebody will reply that I am full of "fecal soup", but science is on my side.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Hey I agree, but for someone who isn't into fish that taste like fish, tilapia is one of the mildest fish out there that has some texture and cooks in minutes. I try not to think of the fecal soup nature of farmed fish, but when faced with the average choices in the local grocery store fish counter it may sometimes be the winner. Unfortunately there are a lot of foreign fish in our grocery store fish counters that are not the freshest or tastiest.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Good point about the preponderance of foreign fish in our markets. It is at the same time a little fascinating and a little scary. Without the government-mandated requirement to identify the country of origin of perishable food, I wonder how often we would know.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        I normally wouldn't do this, but since you called out Gio and scubadoo97, I will give you a taste....

                        The government does require country of origin markings on fish, er, well the packaging obviously.

                        19 CFR 102.1(g)(2) states that a "good obtained from hunting, trapping or fishing" shall be marked according to that country.
                        AND 19 CFR 102.1(g)(5) says " A good (fish, shellfish and other marine life) taken from the sea by vessels registered with that country and flying its flag" will be the country used for marking purposes.

                        Fish must always be marked, it is your monger who is not telling you where they are from

                        1. re: Mr. S

                          Mr. S, forgive me please for being unclear with my subjunctive tense. I should have said "If we were without" concerning the country of origin labeling; the "wonder" at the end is part of the subjunctive clause. We of course require the labeling, which is a good thing. It may introduce hitherto uncontemplated questions to the consumer, but it gives us additional information with which to make a reasoned choice.
                          Thanks for prompting the clarification. And I think I completed my "called outs" in a friendly fashion, as I hope I am doing here, consistent with the spirit of civil discourse among C'hounders. Cheers from Florida to California!

                    2. re: Veggo

                      I guess there is a downside to everything.
                      Conservationists would applaud farm raised fish - or so you would think. However, some actually object because farm raised fish can escape their pens, and mate in the wild, causing new hybrid species, which purists do not like. However, I cannot think of a better solution, can you Veggo? The commercial wild fisheries are all but depleted as it is. My husband and I have been in the seafood market/restaurant business for 24 years, and my my the changes (and yes improvements!) we have seen. Quality is UP at the same time quantity - availability - is sadly down down down.
                      As far as tilapia being raised in "warm water pens", well they need warm water, and my understanding is that the water is filtered, and flushed regularly, actually being returned to the source cleaner than it began. I have been serving this fish in my restaurant for over two years now, (brought it in because of customer demand!), and so far nobody has EVER gotten sick, or complained about the quality.
                      I think farm raising has evolved, and become quite sophisticated. I have seen the quality of farm raised Salmon improve greatly over the years. There is no dye being used, and the fish is absolutely delicious. Ditto the quality of farm raised shrimp, catfish, and other species.
                      My husband believes in the next decade farm raised fish will be replacing the fisheries, they just cannot sustain the demand (except for the Asian fisheries, which are also being depleted at an alarming rate).

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Actually, the majority of tilapa sold in the US is from the Mecong Delta, penned, but in fast flowing areas of the river.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Veggo, in florida Tilapia are called nile perch and although they feed on aquatic veggitation they can be caught on a hook by tricking them.

                          1. re: FishingFool

                            Fishing fool,
                            I am sad to report that Veggo passed away several months ago, He lived in Sw Florida and I had the fortune of having dinner with Veggo and some mutual friends, He will be missed by all of us who appreciated interesting foods, places, and people.

                      2. Alright, hers's a basic rundown. I've caught them all.

                        Snook is about as good as fish gets. Very firm and very white. It does not grill well. You can't buy it, you have to catch it or know someone who does.

                        Cobia is a wondeful firm fish. You can cook it most any way.

                        Pompano is high on the list. It has a very high fat content. There are a million Pompano recipes.

                        Grouper is very firm flesh. It does not grill well. There is a problem with counterfeit grouper, but if you buy it in a fishmarket you should be able to look it in the eye. Don't buy grouper unless you can see the whole fish.

                        Snappers are very good. Especially the big red ones, but they are all good and plentiful. You can cook themmost any old way.

                        Mackeral are oily and not very firm. They are good to eat so long as you eat them within 36 hours of catching them. They don't freeze well. Unless you caught the mackeral, or know who did, don't eat it.

                        Seatrout are pretty good to eat, and pretty versatile. They are a little stronger tasting than snook, snappers or grouper.

                        Sheephead are very good. Alot like snapper.

                        Wahoo has a very firm texture with flesh in tight concentric rings like a tuna. It looks like a mackeral but the flesh is totally different. It can dry out fast during cooking.

                        Mahi mahi are very good, the fresher the better.

                        Yellow fin tuna is up there with snook, as good as it gets,especially if very fresh. It cooks very fast, so if you like it rare, don't turn your back.

                        Red drum, also called redfish, or spotted bass, is pretty good. It has big bones so you don't get much if you filet the fish. Bake a whole 5 pounder, very good.

                        Black drum are about the same as red drum, but shaped more like a snapper. Alot of people don't care to eat them, I think they are fine.

                        That pretty well covers the waterfront. If I think of any more I'll add to this later

                        In freshwater, largemouth bass are very good. Firm flesh. Alot like grouper if you get a big one.

                        8 Replies
                          1. re: Densible

                            Amen. Snook is the best. When I am lucky enough to land one, it is into the fryer asap. Snook is one of those guilty indulgences that just has to be fried ( a very rare statement from me). Just a light egg / cornmeal coating - mmmmmm. Well I think I have to head out to my dock now - snook bite quite well at night...

                          2. re: sarge

                            Hey Sarge, gotta give you a little good-natured ribbing. Any fisherman from FL calls is Dolphin and not mahi mahi! I myself am the daughter of one such fisherman, though have never caught it myself (in fact, I have been the reason the entire boat had to come in while Dolphin fishing due to "the green weenie"). My dad gives me flak every time I say "mahi."

                            With that said, your knowledge of FL fish is impressive and certainly more vast than my own.

                            By the way, isn't there a 2 fish limit on Snook? My dad's best dreams involve catching snook.

                            1. re: amyvc

                              You are correct, and when I am talking with other fishermen, I call them dolphin, but I guess I have bought into the political correctness. (we won't discuss "Goliath Grouper")

                              I should mention that if you are fortunate enough to get a snook, you must completely remove the skin. It supposedly makes the fish taste soapy, (although I have never tried one wioth skin on)

                              I did omit flounder as noted by another post. They are high on the list, not as oily as the trout, but very moist.

                              Another excellent fis is a triple tail. It is also similar to a snapper.

                              1. re: sarge

                                For anyone who wants to have great fish the first thing you have to remember is it MUST be fresh. There is no comparison between fresh and frozen fish, any kind of fish. We fish all the time and we rarely keep fish to eat because if we aren't going to eat it that night it isn't worth keeping. I have to say my favorite fish to eat is Snook, Triple Tail and Spanish Mackeral. If you ever get the chance to try Snook or Triple Tail you are in for a treat. You can't just go buy it usually you have to catch it or go to a restaurant that has it as a special. When we catch a snook we take it to a restaurant near my sister's house and they will cook up half the fish in 3 different ways. Talk about eating until you are stuffed. I love Mackeral too, but I like it skin and all and it has a very oily fish taste. I grew up eating it broiled and it is so yummy. Well that is my favorite fish opinion.

                                1. re: kimocorb

                                  You are so right about fresh, fresh being the perfect 10. Any freeze- thaw is at least a 2-point deduct. I am trying to give mackerel a fair chance, but I find it excessively oily for a warm water fish, and not just the belly. ( I eat most fish raw). The "mackerel skies" preceding a caribbean sunset, however, are a different matter; always digestible.

                                2. re: sarge

                                  Regards "Goliath Grouper": you are an exceedingly wise person, sarge!

                                3. re: amyvc

                                  As a FL native, I had to laugh at this post about the "dolphin" name issue. Once in NYC Chinatown years ago, a know-it-all member of our large dining party loudly insisted that the dolphin on the menu was poor "Flipper" -- no matter that I attempted to educate her that this "dolphin" was a fish and not a cousin of the renowned TV mammal! Ah, fond memories of dining with friends of friends!

                                  Fried snook I grew up on. Simple cornmeal dusting (NOT batter), salt and pepper and deep fat fry! Truly fond memories. Same oil for the hush puppies, of course!

                                  My nephew makes a mean Smoked Cobia Dip (like a crab salad).

                              2. My favorites:
                                Dolphin - very versatile but a nice light saute with lemon butter is good.
                                Snapper - Red when you can get it. But again it is versatile. Look for a snapper Veracruz or a whole snapper on the grill with or without salsa. Also sauteed with lemon butter (or olive oil) and maybe some garlic and white wine
                                Grouper - which can be fixed much like snapper.
                                Pompano - Sauteed or grilled. With salsa.
                                Flounder - light white meat. Poached in white wine.
                                It is also great to take these nice light, firm fish and make a cheviche. Lime, onions, peppers.
                                I'm not a fan of the stronger, oiler fish like king or mackeral but when smoked they are delicious.