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Whole fish Ranch 99

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I'm planning to cook a whole fish for a gathering, and want to check out the Ranch 99 in Van Nuys to get it. What are the best kinds of fish to get there for cooking whole in the oven? I've read about black sea bass, tilapia, and snapper. Who can give me tips on how to order? How should I judge how many people a fish will serve? Any other tips on shopping at Ranch 99?

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  1. I would get one of the fresh fishes out of the tank for the best result.

    Tilapia is always available. Usually I prefer the red ones, but I don't really like tipapia as it has a muddy aftertaste. It's just common to all tilapia.

    I would actually go for one of the non-tilapia live tank fishes. Your best bet is one of the basses they have.

    8 Replies
    1. re: WHills

      Can't go wrong with Sea Bass!! Next time you are in that store ask one of the staff, they are full of info about the fish and freshness...good tips too

      1. re: WHills

        I agree with WHills' assessment on Tilapia's taste. Although it's relatively inexpensive, your money would be better spent getting one of your other two choices. Most people who are at least willing to eat fish will find the taste of both black sea bass and snapper to be at least acceptable. My only concern is the size of your gathering. Most of the live fish at 99 Ranch are probably big enough to serve no more than two to four people. If you're looking for something bigger, you probably need to grab something from the case. Also, I don't know if they carry black sea bass or snapper in the live tanks - the last few times I was there (which has been a while) they did not. An alternative to whole fish might be to get some nice fillets, portion them out, then seal them with some aromatics in parchment paper. It's not as dramatic, but very nice as each person gets their own pouch to tear open with all the wonderful smells.

        The LA Times Food section had a front page article about four to six weeks ago on preparing whole fish in numerous styles. Also, Chowhound's "Home Cooking" category is very active. Either wordsearch it or throw the question as a post out there - you'll getg alot of very knowledgable responses.

        1. re: bulavinaka

          THANK YOU, bulavinaka, for mentioning that article -- I do not receive the LA Times on a daily basis (just the Sunday edition) but I did a simple search and easily found that article.

          It was truly wonderful. It was so informative and so well written, with fabulous sounding recipes, and reading it ( as well as some of the suggestions here) has really taken the mystery out of cooking whole fish. Now I am eager to try at least two of the listed recipes.

          If anyone else wants to check it out -- go here --

          1. re: Maxmillion

            Hey Max, you did all the hard work. If it weren't for the special Food and Home sections on Wednesdays and Thursdays, we'd be getting specifically the Sunday edition as well... The guys at work think I'm strange - usually, guys bring the LA Times to work, pull out the Sports section, and leave the rest of the paper out for scavanging... I pull the Food section out and leave everything else. "What? Not interested in last night's Laker game?" With Jim Murray gone, sports in LA is like a hamburger without the burger - no flavor and alot of air...

            I hope your whole-fish adventures turn out well and please keep us posted!

            1. re: Maxmillion

              I love fish more than meat. Often the whole fish would fill my stomach, the roasted one in micro. Grilled one is just yummy! I've eaten this a few times in restaurants. I tried this - arranging the onions and potatoes around the fish, sprinkle with chopped Cilantro and salt, and served with lime wedges. Enjoy!


          2. re: WHills

            sorry to disagree, but i find both tilapia and striped bass almost inedible because of their muddy flavor. my favorite fish to cook whole is tai snapper, which is wild, not farmed, and has a firm texture and mild flavor. you can almost always find it at 99ranch and at japanese markets. it looks almost exactly like a gulf red snapper (if you know what that looks like ... what an amazing fish) or a mediterranean daurade. for a whole fish, allow about 1 pound per person (especially with the snapper, the head is awfully big). generally, I find a 2-3 pounder feeds 2 generously and 3 adequately. they're dead easy to roast--slash the sides to allow the heat to penetrate (into the flesh, not through the flesh), stuff the cavity with fresh herbs (thyme or basil), put them on a bed of vegetables and roast at 400 until they are done (you'll be able to flake the flesh between teh slashes). Give it a final drizzle of (very good) olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and you're on the way.

            1. re: FED

              Is Tai Snapper what they sell as "true snapper"? Because that's what I ended up getting. They were by far the freshest looking fish at the store, and beautiful, too, red skinned and silvery. I bought 3 fish weighing between 1.5 and 2 pounds each, and I cooked it according to a Cuban recipe, with peppers, onions, tomatoes, bay, manzanilla wine, etc. It was a big hit at the party.

              1. re: gsw

                sounds like it exactly. of course, it's not a "true snapper." it's technically a porgy. but what's a little nomenclature among friends?

          3. I've done it with the Tilapia, and the Red Sanpper. Just tell them how you like it either moist or well done and they'll do it. About once a month for me. One of my favorite for the "You buy we fry" crowd.

            1. strip bass is the best. it's never fishy and the meat is tender. Ranch 99 is a great place to get all of your asian seasonings and ingredients. and the vegetables are super cheap so stock up!

              1. By the way, the best live fish selection is Hong Kong Supermarket in either Monterey Park or San Gabriel. They always have around 5 to 6 selections/varieties of live fish in tanks. But, it might be too far a drive for you.

                1. How do you intend to cook the fish? Low fat fishes tend to dry very easily when cooked with dry heat if one is not careful. High fat fishes tend to be better in that respect. I don't personally think tilapia and snapper would be all that good baked, but if you have a good recipe, more power to you. If I baked a fish, it would be something like salmon. I would guess that most of the live fishes there are low fat fishes.

                  Most of the fishes available at 99 Ranch will serve two or three people max. At the fish counter, there should be a large sign that indicates how you want the fish cleaned (e.g. cleaned & scaled, head and tail removed, etc.). Each method has a number next to it. When you get the fish, tell the guy how you want it cleaned by number.

                  Finally, I don't really like tilapia--tastes funny.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: raytamsgv

                    they will also deep fry it for you

                  2. Question about the whole fish at Ranch 99 in general -- are these farm-raised? Love the idea of getting a fish that fresh but apprehensive about the potential fish-pellety taste.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bite bite

                      in my experience, and repeating, both the tilapia and the striped bass from the live tanks taste excessively "farmed" (you call it fish-pellety, i call it muddy).

                      And while it is theoretically true that lean fish dry out easily during roasting, i haven't found it to be that much of a problem as long as you pay attention. figure about 1/2 hour at 400 degrees.

                      1. re: FED

                        I've bought both the striped bass and the tilapia from the 99 ranch tanks. I didn't find the bass muddy at all.
                        For this new year, I bought tilapia that was farm raised in Idaho---blech---very very muddy.

                      2. re: bite bite

                        I've been to the farm that supplies 75% of the live tilapia to LA markets...he uses all natural feed direct from Taiwan. No chicken manure. That's just what tilapia tastes like...it's not the tastiest fish in the world.

                      3. I would go with the snapper. By Black Sea Bass do you mean Black Bass or the (mis-named) Chilean Sea Bass? You can't buy the Chilean Sea Bass whole. Black Bass is usually steamed in the Cantonese method, and it is usually farm raised, but without the muddy taste. I find that for farm raised fish if you pour boiling water over the fish first, you take out most of the muddy taste. This is what we do with cat fish. In fact, catfish may not be bad baked whole.

                        1. Ranch market in Van Nuys already has a prepackaged whole fish that's already stuffed with veggies (I think it is Tilapia) and I've had great success with that (it runs about $ 7 - $8) and one fish feeds 2-3 people.
                          By the way, I've also had great success with the boneless (yes, I said boneless!) trout with the head still on that I get at Ralph's on Ventura Blvd. and Hazeltine. I stuff it with cleaned whole scallions and lemon slices. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some of Lawry's Seafood rub.

                          1. Thanks all for your advice. I ended up getting something that was sold in English as "true snapper" and in vietnamese (?) as hui cuong (I think). They were beautiful, red and silvery, with clear bright eyes and about 1.5 pounds each. I baked them with peppers, onions, tomatoes, bay leaves, etc. according to a cuban recipe. they were a big hit at the party.

                            I thought about the tilapia, because it was cheap, and I thought about rock cod, which they had, and I thought about some other fish that looked like the rock cod but was striped, but these fish looked the freshest. I had the guy clean them but leave the head and tail on, so they;'d look good on the platter. They cost $5.99 a pound, so my purchase ended up about $26. But - it was a hit.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: gsw

                              You should do a Google search on the words "tilapia and chicken manure" and see what pops up before you ever eat tilapia again.

                              1. re: Galen

                                I noticed that the sign for the tilapia said it was farm raised. The sign on the fish I ended up buying said it was wild caught.

                                1. re: Galen

                                  The article that popped up first on your suggested search is a scientific agricultural research article. I think they authors were trying to see whether high-nitrogen content chicken waste can be recycled as fish feed, rather than using artificial chemical-laden fish feeds. A nice idea, actually.

                                  Some of the yummiest critters on the Chowhound menu feed on rotting, decaying matter in nature (shrimp & crab, for example). That is their role in the food chain. Through the miracle of biology and biomass conversion, they themselves end up being (safely) edible for other animals higher in the food chain (e.g. humans). The circle of life.

                                2. re: gsw

                                  Resurrecting this old thread because I am also trying to figure out what " true snapper" might be. Mine does NOT look like the picture I've found of Tai supper; more like red supper or In Latin American Spanish it is known as huachinangcould .....could that be "hui cuong (I think)".?

                                  Got mine at the Asian Country Square Market.

                                3. For oven-roasting I'd go with the seabass or snapper myself.

                                  A number of years ago I got on a whole wok-fried fish kick and used to buy catfish at 99 Ranch, in Irvine. I thought it was terrific. After a while, though, my family advised that I would be eating it alone. I really miss that fish.

                                  BTW.... I've read here that they will fry fish for you if you ask. Not the same as doing it yourself, but a whole lot less work.