Both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts spoil Georgia with the best of the bounty—delicious local flounder, grouper, pompano, and red snapper. The ocean and rivers provide a huge variety in types and tastes of lean protein that can be cooked in different ways to avoid monotony. Even if you don’t have a huge selection of fresh local fish available, grocery stores almost always have reasonably-priced frozen fish, offering high vitamin and mineral content as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
As with other proteins, environment, texture, and fat content will determine which cooking methods are best, but as a general rule, fish with darker flesh have higher oil content and stronger flavor, though many people, even children, find salmon and tuna surprisingly palatable. Most fish fall into the category of flat (flounder, fluke, sole, turbot), round (sea bass, snapper, grouper, tilefish, salmon, tuna, pompano, mahi-mahi), or cartilaginous (swordfish, shark, monkfish, skate). They can also generally be classified as saltwater, freshwater, or anadromous (migrating between the two through rivers, like eel, salmon, or ocean trout).
Your fishmonger and recipe can help find the type, cut, and accompanying ingredients that are right for you. Zesty sauces, deep-frying, and butter are reliable ways to get almost anyone to appreciate fish, but healthier, easy options, like steaming, poaching, grilling, and baking with herbed lemon or a light vegetable topping, can also produce delicate, enjoyable results.
Here are some fun recipes, highlighting Southern standards…
Whip up an elegant fish dish just like a restaurant chef by searing and finishing in the oven, like this Pecan Coated Fish with Remoulade Sauce. We like grouper, but you can play around with other fish, like flounder, or go even healthier and faster by omitting these standard nut crusts and side sauces.
Or make it a club or po’ boy sandwich:
Grilled Tilapia Po Boys with Homemade Tartar Sauce
Tilapia is a mild and widely available fish, commonly used in baking or grilling or for the popular Southern specialty of a blackened fish sandwich:
Blackened Tilapia Sandwich with Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise
Bobby’s Baked Tilapia
Zesty Grilled Tilapia
Another excellent grilling fish is tuna, which provides a tasty alternative to a high-cholesterol red-meat steak, Grilled Tuna with Olive Tapenade.
Southerners are known for catfish, fried or baked with Old Bay seasoning or heavily sauced:
Southern Fried Catfish
Oven Fried Catfish
For some large-pot Southern group meals, consider a gumbo or a seafood stew:
Savannah Seafood Gumbo
Seafood Cioppino Stew
And remember these tips for the freshest and most delicious fish (aka, for some, the least “fishy” tasting):
- Look for bright, clear, bulging eyes; tight scales and shiny (not slimy) skin; elastic flesh with a clean, pink belly; and no strong odor—essentially, as close to alive as possible.
- Fish degrades extremely fast in the air, so most chefs prefer to buy their fish the day of or the day before cooking. It should be chilled, if not iced, for display, storage, and transport.
- Frozen fish should be properly thawed and gently dried before cooking.