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Fish Flavors and Substitutions

Different fish have different flavors. But you can almost always substitute in most recipes. Just exchange one type for a similar one.

You can substitute one lean fish for another, a fatter fish for another with about the same fat content. Most of our palates are not so discriminating that we will notice a big difference.

Lean fish are white or light in color and have a mild flavor. Higher fat fish have a more pronounced flavor and are darker in color. You can substitute among the species in each category:

White or light color, delicate flavor:

  • flounder
  • grouper
  • tilefish
  • striped bass

White or light color, light to moderate flavor:

  • croaker
  • red drum
  • mahi-mahi
  • mullet
  • pompano
  • porgy
  • red snapper
  • sheepshead
  • spot
  • spotted seatrout
  • swordfish
  • whiting

Light, more pronounced flavor:

  • king mackerel
  • Spanish mackerel

Darker meat, light to moderate flavor:

  • black sea bass
  • bluefish
  • tuna

Remember that the most essential element in the flavor of fish is freshness. If it isn’t fresh, the flavor is unappealing.

In addition to flavor differences, fish also vary in texture. Fish such as flounder have a delicate texture—the meat separates easily and flakes into small pieces. Species such as mullet and trout are moderate in texture and do not flake as easily. Fish such as grouper have a firmer, meatier texture.

Texture doesn’t affect the selection of fish as much as taste does. But you may choose a particular type if you want to use a certain cooking method. If you want fish to cook directly on your grill, you might choose a firm fish such as tuna or salmon rather than flounder or butterfish which would come apart during grilling.

Keep in mind that overcooking changes the texture of fish. Any species will be tough, dry and chewy if you cook it too long.