When a Recipe Calls for White Fish, What Does It Mean?

When a Recipe Calls for White Fish, What Does It Mean?

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Christine Gallary
Apr 22, 2015
(Image credit: Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock)

Buying the right kind of fish can be a bit challenging. Your recipe might call for a specific type of fish or it may just have the very generic term: "white fish." Fish can be very regional and sometimes the seafood counter has only a few options to choose from, so how do you shop for the correct type of fish?

Here are a few pointers to help you buy the right one.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

What does white fish mean?

White fish is not a type of fish — it generally means mildly flavored, quick-cooking fish that usually isn't very expensive. Popular kinds of white fish are tilapia, cod, bass, grouper, haddock, catfish, and snapper, and these are great for frying, searing, using in soups and chowders, and baking.

(Image credit: Elena Yakusheva/Shutterstock)

6 Tips for Buying White Fish

If you're faced with a lot of choices at the seafood counter, here are a few tips that can help:

1. Ask the fishmonger.

Tell the person at the counter what you're making, and they can usually guide you to the right kind of fish.

2. Think about thickness.

If a recipe says that the fillets should be a certain thickness, this thickness is really important since it's tied to how long something takes to cook. Prioritize a white fish of the specified thickness.

3. Check the recipe for clues.

If the recipe just has you shred the cooked fish for tacos or it gets cooked with a bunch of other ingredients like in a chowder, opt for an inexpensive choice since it's not necessarily the star of the recipe. These aren't the times when you want to buy something expensive like halibut.

4. Go for freshness.

Fish is an extremely perishable ingredient, so if there are a couple of options available, ask which is one the freshest or give the options a quick sniff and pick the one that smells the least fishy.

5. Be flexible.

Just because your top choice isn't available, don't be disappointed. There are so many different kinds of fish that can be used in lots of different ways. Use this as an opportunity to try a new fish — you might end up discovering something even better than your first choice!

6. Don't forget sustainability.

The privilege of eating fish comes with the responsibility of making sure we take care of our oceans and fish populations. Seafood Watch is a great resource to check whether a fish is sustainable. It also has an app that you can use while out shopping, as well good substitutions if the fish you're looking for isn't the most sustainable choice.

→ Check it out: Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

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