As any seafood lover will tell you, not all fish is alike. Firm or flaky, light or rich, shell or none; the fruit de mer you put on your plate distinguishes the entire meal.
With visitors setting their sites on a Cape vacation and the fish stores coming alive again, here is your primer to Cape Cod fish, thanks to information provided by the Cape Cod Fish Share program.
Atlantic Cod: Bartholemew Gosnold is credited with the “European discovery” of New England, and he named Cape Cod for the the plentiful “codfyshes” which “pestered” his ship. Atlantic cod is sweeter than its Pacific cousin; it boasts a mild flavor and flaky white flesh. It’s perfect for broiling, baking, steaming, smoking, and of course, chowdah!
Haddock: Haddock has a superior flavor. The meat is lean and white (less firm than cod), and flakes beautifully when cooked. Haddock is excellent baked, broiled, fried, poached or used in a chowder or stew. Scrod is another term for “small haddock.”
Yellow Tail Flounder: Yellowtail flounder is sought after by cooks: the meat is mild, lean, flaky and and adaptable to lots of great recipes. Since it is a lean fish, however, the best way to cook flounder is with wine, sauces and other liquids to help keep them from drying out.
Winter Skate: Skates are members of the shark family that have pectoral fins so exaggerated they are called “wings”. This allows them to lie flat on the ocean floor and disappear into the sand. It is not common, but seen in areas (like New England) that have a strong fishing and seafood tradition. The traditional preparation for skate is gently seared or sauteed with a brown butter sauce.
Redfish: The flesh of the redfish is sometimes pink, lean, firm, flaky and very tasty! It is similar to perch and is the star of a classic Cajun dish: served “blackened” and pan-charred in butter. It’s also a great addition to a classic French bouillabaisse.
Monkfish: The tail meat of the monkfish is delicious: dense, sweet, and very similar to lobster tail in flavor and texture. Monkfish is an excellent low-fat, low-cholesterol source of protein and vitamins. It’s best cooked with some moisture: excellent preparations include braising, or roasting with a sauce.
Pollock: A member of the Cod family, this fish is wild captured and very sustainable right now. Atlantic Pollock has a mild and delicate flavor and flaky texture, and has a higher oil content than Pacific Pollock.
Silver Hake: Also known as Atlantic Whiting, Silver Perch and Silver Trout. The flesh is lean and flaky, yet remains moist when cooking. Hake can be prepared like cod, which is versatile and promises excellent results after baking, poaching, sautéing, grilling, and roasting. Hake is also used for sushi and sashimi in Japanese markets.
Sand Dab: This fish is sometimes called “the littlest flounder” — even the name sounds cute, doesn’t it? They have a sweet, soft texture that is uncommonly moist and mild. Frying or sauteing are the chief cooking methods for dabs. You’ll get these the best way possible: super-fresh, cleaned and ready to go!
Lobster / Cull Lobster: Lobsters are wonderful in general, and you will be delighted to discover that Cape lobsters have a harder shell, sweeter meat, and more meat in the lobster than the more northern Gulf of Maine lobster. Classic preparations are boiled or steamed. Cull lobsters are either missing a claw or have a smaller one, and are a great sustainable option as the fishermen cannot sell them to big markets or chains. The delightful surprise here is that culls have more meat in the tail.
Sea Scallops: Scallops are characterized by having two types of meat in one shell: the adductor muscle, called “scallop” which is white and meaty, and the roe, called “coral”, which is red or white and soft. Fresh scallops are wonderful sautéed, or lightly coated in panko crumbs and pan fried.
Nantucket Bay Scallops: In season for just November and December, these scallops are smaller and more tender than their sea scallop cousins. Their limited availability and velvety texture usually make them more costly, but the rich flavor also means you don’t need as large a portion to have a satisfying meal. To preserve their delicate flavor, they’re best cooked simply – a quick sear in a sauté pan is all you need!
Northern Shrimp: Wild Northern shrimp has firm, mild, sweet-tasting flesh in the tail and body, and the shrimp from colder waters are generally smaller and more succulent. They are primarily caught with bottom trawls equipped with grates, which help reduce the bycatch of other groundfish. Fresh shrimp should be used as soon as possible, but they freeze extremely well (both whole and peeled) if you are not ready to cook them right away. When properly cooked (not overcooked), they become firm and opaque. Shrimp are an extremely versatile seafood, lending themselves well to simple sautées with garlic and herbs, as well as richer dishes like bisque.