Pacific surfperch is a shore angler's staple. This saltwater fish is found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Part of the family of perciform fishes (perch-like shape), it is mild in flavor with a soft texture. This fish is good for recipes that call for white fish, like tacos, soups, and sandwiches, although most cooks favor cooking it whole.
What Is Pacific Surfperch?
This tasty little fish with white, firm flesh is similar to its distant cousins the rockfish, snapper, sea bass, porgy, and bream, so any recipes you find for these fish work with surfperch. The Pacific surfperch can grow to as large as 4 pounds but most often is far smaller at the time that it's caught.
How to Cook Pacific Surfperch
Unless the fish weighs more than 2 pounds, you shouldn't bother filleting Pacific surfperch, because you risk the loss of a lot of meat and time. Surfperch is best prepared grilled whole, crispy fried, or cooked en papillote.
Dust with seasoned flour and deep-fry it whole; stuff with citrus and aromatics before baking it; pan-fry fillets with peppercorns and sea salt; deep-fry cubed pieces for fish tacos and use fresh herbs to enhance flavor. Use a grilling basket for cooking the fish whole on the grill. The head and bones of bigger surfperch can make a decent fish stock, but keep in mind that this fish tends to be too oily for a truly refined stock.
What Does Pacific Surfperch Taste Like?
Surfperch has a mild flavor, but connoisseurs agree that what makes the fish known is its texture more than its flavor. Many consider the texture of the surfperch too mushy, so brining the fish in cold water with salt and sugar for a few hours might help with the firmness of the flesh.
Pacific Surfperch vs. Perch
Although it is commonly thought that the main difference between surfperch and perch are the habitats in which they live in the wild, from shallow (surfperch) or deep waters (perch), the truth is that perch is a freshwater fish from the Percidae family, and surfperch is in the Embiotocidae family.
Surfperch, also called seaperch, is any of 23 species in the Embiotocidae family of fish that inhabit the Northern Pacific Ocean (although a few live in Japanese waters). Surfperch is not perch; some species of surfperch include redtail, calico, barred, silver, walleye, striped, rubberlip seaperch, black perch, and pile perch.
Treat Pacific surfperch as you would any other mild white fish: Make fried surfperch sandwiches on crispy bread with spicy mayo and greens; serve it in tacos with fresh greens and pico de gallo in a hard or soft tortilla; or make fish and chips. Use panko, breadcrumbs, or flour as breading before frying or broiling, and serve as a protein in salads. Use as the main dish accompanied by rice, bulgur, barley, pasta, or potato salads with citrusy dressings. Alternatively, grind the meat and add cornmeal or flour, eggs, seasonings, and fresh or dried herbs to make small meatballs to bread and deep-fry.
Where to Buy Pacific Surfperch
You will find surfperch 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 species of surfperch—it is noticeably tastier. Be mindful that the rubberlips species needs to come from clean waters because this fish is a filter feeder.
Storing Pacific Surfperch
As with any other fish, if you're consuming it within two days of the purchase or catch, store it in the fridge after cleaning and patting dry. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and place it in the coldest spot of your refrigerator. If you want to freeze it immediately after buying, the best technique is to place the fish on a sheet of aluminum foil and place it in the freezer until frozen, then tightly wrap it in plastic wrap or ideally vacuum seal it. Alternatively, you can freeze the fillets in water by placing each portion in a zip-top bag and covering it with water before freezing it.