All About Cooking Pacific Rockfish

Rock cod is an Asian delight and American treasure

Grilled fish and rice
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Pacific rockfish are the most common near-shore fish on North America's West Coast. It's an excellent fish for quick-and-easy meals and is a favorite in Asian and American cuisines. 

While there are taste differences in several varieties, all rockfish—also known as rock cod or Pacific snapper—are firm, lean, and mild-flavored. It's a very versatile fish. From fried to grilled and steamed to raw, you have plenty of preparation options. It's fantastic in almost any fish recipe and, if you have a recipe that doesn't specify a type of fish, rockfish would be a great choice.

Varieties of Rockfish

Rockfish are very common in the Pacific Ocean. More than 70 different varieties of this bass-like fish swim around the North American shorelines. They're also found down to depths of 300 feet or more. Depending on the species, rockfish can grow from 1 to 40 pounds.

The main difference between rockfish is their texture and color. The varieties are often named for their primary color. China cod is an exception, although it's often considered one of the best. This small black variety is easy to spot because it has a yellow racing stripe running along its back. It is especially fine-textured, which means it can bruise easily, and it often commands a high price.

Many people also enjoy the red varieties, such as vermillion or copper rockfish. These are fine fish, but not very different than the more common black, brown, and olive rockfish.

Buying Rockfish at the Grocery Store

You will usually find rockfish sold as skinless fillets. It's not uncommon for them to be incorrectly labeled as "snapper." Rockfish, while tasty, do not have anywhere near as fine a flavor as real red snapper, which only lives in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rockfish also is frequently sold whole or scaled and gutted. You'll mostly find the whole rockfish in Asian markets. High-end Western markets are selling the whole fish with more frequency as more people discover the joy and ease of cooking them.

Rockfish have an average shelf life of five to seven days. 

Methods for Cooking Rockfish

If you buy a whole rockfish, there are two preferred ways to prepare it: crispy-fry it in oil or steam it. Crispy-frying takes advantage of the rockfish's firmness while steaming highlights its delicate flavor. Both methods have been perfected by the Asian-American community, so look to these sources for inspiration. 

For example, this Sichuan sweet and sour crispy fish recipe is a fantastic introduction to oil frying a whole rockfish. For steamed rockfish filets, try this ginger-soy fish recipe. You also can use rockfish with a Japanese simmering sauce or simply grill it and serve it with lemon and salt as is customary in the Mediterranean.

If you don't want to cook your rockfish whole, but bought it that way, fillet the fish out as usual. Be sure to keep the heads and bones for fish stock. This lean, clean-tasting fish is perfect for that, so take advantage of your trimmings. Preserve your stock and use it later to create amazing dishes like a classic Normandy sauce.

If you have a skinless fillet, use it in any fillet recipe. Rockfish is excellent when dredged in flour and sautéed. Try it with your favorite recipe or seasoning blend and see how it compares to fish you've used before. You might be pleasantly surprised at its clean taste. It's also good when batter-fried or made into tempura

Rockfish also are a great fish to serve raw in sushi. Just make sure to freeze it for a few days before preparing it to kill any parasites. You also can "cook" it using citrus as in ceviche or chop it into a tartare.

Nutritional Value of Rockfish

Rockfish is packed with protein; an average serving has almost 33 grams. As with most fish, it is full of omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of heart disease. It's a good source of vitamin D and potassium as well and can help prevent high blood pressure.