Delicious Ways to Prepare Affordable White Fish

by Marla Walters on 6 February 2013 12 comments
Photo: ccharmon

I often hear that many people are mystified about how to choose and cook fish or how to find fish that fits their budget. White fish, of which there are many types, is usually very affordable. Even better? It's suitable for a variety of preparations. (See also: How to Shop for Fresh Fish)

What to Look for in a Piece of Fish

First of all, do not assume that fresh fish is always best. What you may not know is that "flash-frozen" fish may actually be tastier than "fresh," which may have spent several days in refrigeration. "Flash-frozen" means that the fish was frozen, on the fishing boat, within four hours of being caught.

If you are buying fresh fish, use your nose. Lift up that package and give it a sniff. If it smells really "fishy," odds are that it is not very fresh. Also, look at the liquid in the package. It should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid indicates the beginning of spoilage. If you are buying a whole fish, check the gills — they should be bright red. Eyes should be bright and clear.

Okay! Now that you've chosen a nice piece of fresh fish, let's prepare it. The following are fifteen suggestions for cooking fish that are tried-and true.

White Fish Recipes

First up, my own creation. If you don’t like coconut, just leave it out.

Marla’s Crispy Coconut Fish

  • 2 large fillets (tilapia or mahi-mahi work well)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T. flour
  • ½ cup panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • 1 T. rice flour (for extra crunch)
  • ¼ t. salt
  • ¼ t. pepper
  • Oil for frying

You’ll need three cereal bowls or small bowls.

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  • In the first bowl, put the flour, rice flour, salt, and pepper. Mix and set aside.
  • In the second bowl, beat the eggs and set aside.
  • In the third bowl, combine the panko and coconut.

Method

  1. Dip the fillets into the first bowl and get them well-coated with flour, salt, and pepper.
  2. Next, dip the filets into the beaten egg wash.
  3. Third, roll the filets into the coconut-panko mixture and gently tap to remove excess breading.

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Fry on each side until crispy. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

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Sole

During much of my childhood, we had fish on Fridays. Unfortunately, my mother had a limited fish repertoire, and that meant sole in a white sauce. That experience made me reluctant to try sole for years. Sole, however, is delicious, and I am glad I got over the resistance to use it. The second recipe I’d like to share here is for baked sole with tarragon butter.

Not only is it easy, but it looks elegant if you are entertaining and want something showy. When asked to describe the flavor of tarragon, I am at somewhat of a loss. I asked this question of the good old Internet and found that I wasn’t the only one. I am reminded of anise, or licorice...but it has a bit of sharpness, too. Sole (and chicken breasts) are really nice with tarragon — maybe because they are both mild and don’t compete with the herb.

When I used to be a lady who lunched, I noticed stuffed sole turned up on menus a lot. It still pops up at the occasional event, and I am always glad to see it. It does seem luxurious, but if you clean and cook your own shrimp, you can keep the cost down.

Ahi

My husband made seared tuna with wasabi-butter sauce for me for my birthday in 2007. I enjoyed it so much that the recipe card now features an enthusiastic expletive. Although it calls for seared ahi, I experimented and found out that it really doesn’t matter what fish I use — this recipe is about the sauce. Don’t be afraid of the wasabi, as it mellows into a very luxurious sauce.

Tilapia

Because it can be farmed, the global tilapia market grew rapidly. In turn, there were environmental concerns about what was fed to the fish, pen overcrowding, and so on. As of this writing, Seafood Watch recommends, "tilapia raised in the United States as 'best choice', tilapia from Latin America as a ‘good alternative’, and tilapia from China to be avoided."

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Costco and Whole Foods carry U.S.-raised tilapia. Also, because it is farmed, and fed corn, soy, etc., it is lower in Omega-3’s than other fish. However, it is still a healthy choice. Because it is a bargain, I use it quite a bit. In fact, I use it so often my husband and daughter said, "ENOUGH." In deference to their wishes, I have eased back. This Wise Bread post contains several of my favorite tilapia recipes, developed while the fun lasted.

Catfish

Although some describe catfish as having a "muddy" flavor (well, it is a bottom feeder), once you fry the sucker, you’ll forgive it. This Paula Deen recipe for an oven-fried catfish makes it healthier than a deep fried version.

Cod

I didn’t really think I liked cod until I ordered fish and chips not long ago at a restaurant, and it was delicious. This beer batter fish-and-chips recipe, also from Paula Deen, uses cod (and the fryer).

Opah

If you get a chance to try Opah, I don’t think you will regret it. I find it easy to work with and, like sole, it is mild. Seared opah and tomato garlic butter represents it well.

Alaskan Pollock

If we are discussing "cheap" fish, we cannot leave out Alaskan pollock. But I have issues, so I will be leaving the pollock recipes out. Determined to try and use this inexpensive fish, I bought a small quantity for a recipe. It looked and smelled strange. Not wanting to waste it, I put it in front of the cat. He sniffed it, sniffed it again, and walked away. Readers, if you have a good recipe for pollock, please send it my way.

Sturgeon

A Native American acquaintance once shared sturgeon with us. In all honesty, I think that sturgeon are really ugly. They can get huge and they are very prehistoric-looking. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to eat it, but after a soak in this marinade, I was a convert. Best on the barbeque.

Mike’s Sturgeon Marinade

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 T. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 T. fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup sherry

Combine ingredients and marinate fish for 30 minutes. Grill.

Trout

Is there a better camping breakfast than rainbow trout with cornmeal crust? No, there just isn’t. Make life easy and pack the breading mix in a Ziploc bag before you head outdoors.

Sand Dabs

You don’t see sand dabs much anymore, and that’s kind of a shame. They made a great breakfast, too, along with fried potatoes and eggs. They couldn’t be any easier to make.

Halibut

When I lived in Northern California halibut was affordable, but I am told those days are now rare. I am envious of Alaskans who can eat halibut regularly. This is my favorite way to eat it. I add a half cup of roasted, salted and chopped macadamia nuts to the topping in this recipe for broiled halibut.

Sea Bass

I love the Italian take on this sea bass recipe. Sea bass is also known as "rockfish." I think it does much better in the oven than on the barbeque, where it wants to fall apart.

Flounder

This fun crispy fish finger recipe comes to us from Elle Krieger at the Food Network, so it's also healthier than the usual fried fish. Ketchup is the perfect dipping sauce for kids.

Have a favorite fish recipe? Please share!

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Guest's picture

Great post! Buying frozen fish is a great way to save money and is a great alternative to splurging on fresh fish that may not actually be that fresh. My favorite way to serve white fish is to grill it after it has been defrosted and slice it up to serve on top of a spinach salad!

Marla Walters's picture

Morgan, we'd get along just fine. :-) Thanks for commenting and please pass the spinach.

Meg Favreau's picture

Yum! Great selections, Marla.

Recently, I've been a huge fan of these spicy fish tacos: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fish-Tacos-352976

Marla Walters's picture

Oooooo. I bookmarked that recipe. And no pollock, Meg!

Guest's picture

Whenever I buy fish I'm usually planning on cooking it within a day, so I make sure that it smells and looks fresh. I've cooked fish before in a number of ways and my favorite are grilling it or making a crust on it like you suggested in the first recipe. You really do have to be careful with tilapia and other farm-raised fish as the U.S. can't really be trusted in their regulations on farming in any area.

Marla Walters's picture

Hey, Kelly! Thanks for your comment. I do follow Seafood Watch, which is connected to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org and find them to be reliable. I completely agree with you -- need to be careful about what you buy, and find out where it is from.

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

I noticed that all of these recipes are heavy on the oil or butter. I prefer white fish (sole or halibut by preference) baked en papillote with tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemon juice and fresh oregano or basil or dill. Thicken the juices from cooking with a little corn starch and you have a very low-fat, healthy alternative preparation.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Purchase Wisely, and . . . guilty. Thank you for providing a healthier take on preparation. Duly noted. :-) Thanks for commenting!

Guest's picture

I love fish but always think its too expensive. Will take advantage of the advice. Thank you.

Marla Walters's picture

Great! Make sure to check the frozen section - some real deals in there. Tx for your comment!

Guest's picture
Kevin

I am a personal fan of Tilapia and Ahi when I have the chance. Living in Florida, we are blessed with the ability to fish for Snapper and Kingfish which are truly my favorites. Looking forward to the Crispy Coconut Fish recipe.

Thanks

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Kevin, and thanks for chiming in. I had to look up Kingfish! I would love to try the fish of Florida. Someday!