The Old Bait and Switch: How to Use Local, Sustainable Fish Instead of Non-Local Ones

September 11, 2015


There are certain fish we all know the names of: salmon, bass, tuna, halibut. They're well known because they're delicious, which is as good a reason as any, and because, for years, they were plentiful. But as overfishing becomes more and more of a global issue, it's increasingly important to find out what's swimming in our local waters. Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn shared with us the names of some of the most plentiful, sustainable fish on the Northeastern Coast—porgy, summer flounder, tilefish, and squid—and we're excited to try them in the seafood dishes we already love, in place of less local fish.

If you don't live on the East Coast, you can still borrow Edible's tips: Ask the person who sells you your seafood to help you find a locally caught fish with a flavor and texture similar to the fish in the recipe you want to make.

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Call up your fishmonger and try these 8 recipes with sustainable, local fish:

Use porgy (also called "scup" or "bream") instead of catfish or snapper: Porgies are fairly small fish, growing only as large as 4 pounds, and their white flesh is fairly delicate. Purchase and cook them whole (they're pretty bony). Panfrying, grilling, baking, and roasting are all good approaches to take.

Try it: Whole Baked Fish in Sea Salt with Gremolata by TasteFood or Blackened Tilapia or Catfish by Nicholas Day

Whole  Tilapia


Use summer flounder (also called "fluke") instead of cod or sole: Summer flounder is a flat fish with very delicate white flesh. Purchase it whole and sing its praises for its versatility: It grills and bakes well, but is also delicious panfried or deep-fried. You can also shred it into flakes for tacos or fish sticks.

Try it: Lime and Tarragon Aioli with Panko-Crusted Fish Sticks by sdebrango or White Fish Escabeche Tacos by cheese1227

Sticks  Escabeche


Use tilefish instead of dover sole or black sea bass: This fish has a fairly firm flesh—and it is delicious when prepared simply, with butter and lemon. (But that's no reason not to gild the lily.) It should be noted that tilefish tends to have a higher mercury content.

Try it: Make Cherry Tomato Tequila Butter Salsa with Fried Fish by Sam1148 or Dover Sole with Herb Oil and Zucchini by thirschfeld

Porgy  Dover sole


Use local squid instead of imported squid or octopus: Squid is cheap, plentiful, and always in season. Buy whole squids (not just the calamari rings), and prepare it by grilling, quick-frying, stewing, or roasting. Serve it with lemon—it's as good as it gets.

Try it: Seafood, Fennel, and Lime Salad by Yotam Ottolenghi or Squid with Watercress Salsa Verde by GrowNYC

Salad  Salsa

Illustration by Chloe Hoeg for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn; photo of Whole Baked Fish in Sea Salt with Gremolata by Mark Weinberg; photo of White Fish Escabeche Tacos by Bobbi Lin; photo of Seafood, Fennel, and Lime Salad by Richard Learoyd; photo of Squid with Watercress Salsa Verde by Max Kelly; all others by James Ransom

What's your favorite (local) fish to fry? (Or, you know, bake, grill, or serve raw.) Give us your go-tos in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tereza
  • Greenstuff
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Tereza September 11, 2015
Great article. Whenever I travel, I am reminded how lucky I am to live near the ocean with freshly/sustainably caught fish.
Greenstuff September 11, 2015
Love the poster. I got through grad school catching porgy (we called it scup). One way to broaden ourselves beyond Brooklyn, at least to the rest of the US, is to check out the Sea Food Watch guides. You can click on your state and get a printable guide.

It's too bad that eating seafood is so complicated with sustainability and pollutant concerns. But it's even sadder when people avoid all fish and shellfish, as they can be among the healthiest and most delicious foods we can choose.