Cooking With Pacific Surfperch

Freshly caught surfperch on ice

John Loo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

About Pacific Surfperch

Pacific surfperch is a shore angler's staple. This is a tasty little fish that, from an eating perspective, fits in with its distant cousins the rockfish, snapper, sea bass, porgy, and bream. Any recipes you find for these fish work with surfperch. Perch can be as large as 4 pounds but are most often far smaller when they are caught.

Several kinds of surfperch exist, including the rubber lips, redtail, calico, and barred surfperch. But none of these is a real perch. Pacific surfperch can be found from Alaska to Baja California and is easily caught from piers, jetties, and beaches.

You will find these fish in West Coast markets all year long, mainly in Asian stores. Pacific surfperch is almost always sold whole or scaled and gutted.

If you have a choice, choose the redtail surfperch; it is noticeably tastier. A warning about rubber lips: Be careful that you get it from clean waters because this fish is a filter feeder and can live in polluted water.

Serving Suggestions

You should not bother to fillet surfperch unless the fish is more than 2 pounds—otherwise, you waste too much meat. Surfperch is best prepared grilled whole, crispy-fried or steamed, Asian-style

You can use the heads and bones of surfperch to make passable stock, but this fish tends to be a little oily for a truly refined stock.

Treat Pacific surfperch as you would any other fish when it comes to its accompaniments. Make fried surfperch a sandwich on crispy bread with mayo and greens; into tacos with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and taco sauce in a hard or soft tortilla; or as a main dish with a side of rice pilaf, French bread, and mixed green salad. Use panko, bread crumbs or flour as breading before frying or broiling or dredge in cayenne pepper, garlic, onion powder and paprika for a spicy rub that cuts the carbs.

Serve with a light beer like your favorite lager or a crisp white wine like pinot grigio, Chablis, Orvieto or sauvignon blanc.