I don’t fish strictly for food, but I do keep many of the fish I catch when it’s legal and ethical to do so. And I do like to eat them, but what is the best tasting fish?
Some people think a fish is a fish. They think all fish taste so all other fish that eating one species of fish is as good as eating the next. It’s like saying any sort of fried food tastes like chicken. All fish don’t taste alike, some are decidedly better than others but “decidedly better” is highly subjective. Some people prefer roast beef, others roast pork.
I’ve been lucky enough to fish and catch and eat many species of fish from both fresh and salt water and by and large, there’s a difference between the flavor of a saltwater and freshwater fish. Generally, the saltwater fish are much more robust, the freshwater fish I like have delicate, more individualized flavors.
So what are my favorites from both salt and freshwater? Here is the list ranked from good to great!
5) Walleye. Many people would put the walleye as number one on their list. Though tasty, I call them the fish for people who don’t like to eat fish. They are so delicate, the meat borders on being tasteless, to me.
4) Bluegill. Many would talk down to me for listing bluegill as number four. But consider all the other possibilities such as crappies, catfish, bass, trout and others and making the top five isn’t all bad! They have a special little tang when you take a bite reminiscent of a secret herb you just can’t identify.
3) Salmon. Here, I’m talking about Great Lakes salmon that spend their whole life in fresh water. The Great Lakes produce a mild meat with just enough “salmon” flavor to let you know it’s salmon. A big plus is salmon is great in all sorts of recipes.
2) Northern Pike. If anyone doesn’t like pike it’s probably more because they have an extra set of bones than because of the flavor. Learn to avoid the bones or remove them while cleaning and the meat of a northern is astonishingly good. Where walleye “squeaks” northwoods flavor, pike shouts it out and make’s you happy to be alive.
1) Yellow perch. Deep fried, pan fried or even sauteed in butter, take a bite and you’ll want another and another. Perch are a miniature cousin to a walleye but their flavor is ever so much better, richer and satisfying, proving once and for all good things can come in small packages.
SALT WATER FISH:
I don’t have the experience with salt water fish I have had with freshwater specimens. Many of the saltwater fish are commercially caught or perhaps I’ve just not fished in areas where they are abundant. I love Atlantic cod, but I’ve never caught one so they aren’t on my list. Here’s the ones I have caught, sampled and enjoyed.
5) Striped bass. Like walleye, many may wonder why aren’t higher on my list. Like walleye, they are too mild to claim a spot higher on my list. I want a fish that asserts itself more than stripers do. It’s good. It’s not the MVP.
4) Snapper. I’m grouping the snappers together but if I had more experience with them I’d probably separate red snappers, from Lane snappers from mutton, cuberas and all the rest. They are all easy to catch and great on the plate.
3) Spanish mackerel. What an exotic flavor! I love them grilled and because they are a bit oily, grilling is a favored way of preparing them. Don’t add butter, they already have a buttery flavor. Then sprinkle with a bit of lime juice and you’ll know you aren’t in Kansas - or Illinois or Indiana anymore when you take a bite.
2) Halibut. If you love the sweetness of king crabs you’ll go bonkers for halibut. My guess is they eat enough crabs regularly, the sweetness just infiltrates the meat. And you don’t have to crack all those pesky legs to get at the meat hidden inside.
1) Mahi-mahi. The Hawaiian name is now used almost everywhere. In Florida, mahi used to be called dolphin, in Mexico they are called dorado. Regardless, the mahi has a special texture (similar to chicken breast meat) as well as a special flavor. I don’t like the harsh methods of cooking them like grilling or pan searing as much as I like them baked, poached or sauteed.