Tuesday, December 29, 2020
The Culinary Cook Cooking Basics Types of Fish and Shellfish Species for Eating & Cooking

Types of Fish and Shellfish Species for Eating & Cooking


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Types of Fish and Shellfish Species for Cooking

different types of fish
Sushi is exquisite because it allows you to taste the fish. Salmon nigiri

There is so much to cover when it comes to the different types of fish species and names. It encompasses an entire ecosystem rather than a single animal. Much of what we’ll cover will touch on all the basic types of fish and seafood. We’ll touch on the properties they have and the preferred cooking methods. We will also go over the general rules of thumb. The different types of fish species listed here are the typical varieties available everywhere.
When dealing with fish types and seafood, it is important to know what kind of product we are dealing with. The term seafood can have different meanings to different people. When referring to seafood it may refer to shellfish, or shellfish and other edible marine creatures. Some may define seafood as food that comes from saltwater shellfish. Others define it as saltwater shellfish and fish.

Recommended Tools and Resources

There are some very good resources out there for you to learn more with. Learning how to cook and prepare fish is a great skill to learn. I have worked with seafood quite a lot and worked on a fishing resort on Vancouver Island, Canada for a season. I learned some fantastic skills and I couldn’t have done it without the training and equipment.

I have put together my list of recommended tools and resources through our Amazon affiliate program. Any purchases made through our links earn us a commission at no cost to you and help support the site. If you choose to use our links, thank you in advance and I hope our content serves you well.

Boning Knife

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The first purchase I made for preparing fish was a proper boning knife. These knives are thin and have a flexible blade to help with filleting and deboning. An essential tool to own. They do not have to be expensive to be of good quality. To check out our recommended boning knife, check it out on Amazon by clicking here.

The Culinary Cookbook

The Culinary Cookbook is a fantastic resource to have at your fingertips. Downloadable on any device and packed with professional recipes, the value offered is incredible. Learning the same recipes taught in major culinary arts programs makes our cookbook a must-have for any skill level – From home cook to culinary students, to line cooks.

Current Issue: Stocks & Sauces

In our current issue, we bring over 40+ recipes with highly in-depth recipes, tips, and techniques all brought together in a beautifully crafted high-resolution downloadable PDF. Available now!

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Endangered Fish Species & Types

It is the responsibility of all aspiring cooks and chefs to be a part of the solution for the dwindling number of certain types of fish species. This means to try to source their product from ethical and renewable sources. Over-fishing from techniques such as trawling is destructive. Insist on knowing the source of your fish types and opt for sustainable options.

List of Endangered/Over-fished Species

different types of fish
Harvesting methods are to blame for dwindling fish populations

  1. Bluefin Tuna (overfished – Albacore OK)
  2. Red Snapper (overfished)
  3. Orange Roughy
  4. Beluga Sturgeon  (Beluga caviar)
  5. Chilean Seabass
  6. Clams (Dredged)
  7. Lingcod (Good from Alaska, overfished off West Coast)
  8. Monkfish
  9. Oysters (Dredged)
  10. Atlantic Salmon (Overfished)
  11. Scallops (Dredged)
  12. Sharks (overfished, slow-growing)
  13. Swordfish (overfished)

Round Fish

different types of fish
Chinook Salmon

We can divide the different types of fish species into 2 categories – Flatfish and Round fish types. From here, we can further break down this category to include freshwater and saltwater. Then there are fatty fish types and lean fish types. In the culinary world, there are two types of fish that we categorize with. This is flatfish and round fish. We will also have fresh and saltwater, fat and lean being attributes to the different types of fish.
Round fish are those that many are already familiar with. They are cylindrical in shape and have the characteristics we’ve grown to identify with. Some popular round fish:

Fish Names for Different Types of Round Fish Species:

  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Arctic char

    different types of fish
    Arctic char
  • Cod
  • Haddock
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Red Snapper
  • Salmon
  • Swordfish

    different types of fish
  • Tuna


The fattiness or leanness of the fish species is how we determine the proper cooking methods. Many round fish are fatty and lend themselves well to dry-heat cooking methods such as sauteing, baking, pan-frying, grilling. This is due to the ability to maintain their juiciness. Some fatty fish do not hold up well to deep-frying due to this species of fish having a tendency to become too soft. Lean fish are best prepared using moist-heat methods such as poaching or steaming. This is common in dishes like soups and chowders.
How do you determine what is a lean fish type and what is a fat type of fish to eat? Knowing the different types of fish requires experience in knowing the more common types. There is generally no rule in determining fatty and lean fish types. Knowing the difference does have a large impact on the cooking method. We’ll take the small popular group mentioned above to help you gain a basic understanding.

Fish Names of Different Types of Fish


Bass is usually referred to by much-unrelated fish. The better known freshwater types of fish include largemouth, smallmouth, redeye, and black. Bass are lean and delicate.
Catfish is a fatty scaleless freshwater fish that is common in lakes and rivers. We recommend purchasing farmed catfish as they have a tendency of tasting “muddy”. Prepare them using any cooking method, but they take well to frying.
Arctic char is a different type of salmon that we find in the far northern rivers. It is a lean fish and pink-fleshed. Wild char availability is limited to August, September, March, and April. They are available farm-raised.
Cod is the best-selling, most popular fish available. They are often used in fish sticks, pre-breaded portions, drawn and filleted. Cod is a lean type of fish. Scrod is a marketing term used for cod weighing less than 1.1kg (2-1/2 lbs)
Haddock is the second most commercially available type of fish. They are lean, with a strong flavor and a more delicate texture than Cod.

red snapper fish
Red Snapper

Herring are long silvery-blue fish found in northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They are a strongly flavored, fatty fish. Herring takes well to grilling or roasting but because they are soft they tend to spoil quickly.

Sardines are young, small herring which have a fatty, oily flesh with a flaky texture. You will know sardines due to their availability in canned form. They are great for sandwiches and salads.
Tilapia is the name given to many species of freshwater aqua-farmed fish bred. They are a lean fish with a firm texture. They are sometimes marketed as snapper despite not belonging to the snapper family. Be careful when selecting your snapper.
Trout is a common North American freshwater fish. They are related to salmon and are fatty fish. Some common varieties include Rainbow Trout, Red Mountain Trout, and Brook Trout.
Red Snapper is a fish gaining popularity within the restaurant industry. The only true snapper is the red snapper. It has a lean, pink flesh and can take to almost any cooking method. The bones and head are excellent for fish stock.
Salmon is a very common round fish that is available both farmed and wild. They come from both freshwater rivers and saltwater from the Pacific and Atlantic waters. There are many varieties of Salmon and the availability ranges by the time of year. They are fatty fish and the most popular in Canada. The different types include Chinook or King Salmon, Coho, Pink, Tyee, Chum, Sockeye, and Kokanee.

Swordfish are a very lean game fish with firm, meat-like texture. Swordfish are becoming endangered.
Tuna is another highly popular fish. It is a fatty fish with a firm texture and mild flavor. The different varieties of tuna include bluefin, yellowfin, bonito, albacore, and ahi.
There are hundreds of more fish that are available. Remembering which is fatty and which is lean will help you know exactly how to cook that particular fish. Cook using dry-heat methods for fatty fish. Moist-heat cooking methods are preferred for lean fish to help keep it moist and flavorful.

Flat Fish Types & Species

different types of fish

There are only a few commercially available fish that can be categorized as being a flatfish. All different types of flatfish are lean and have a firm delicate texture. The different types of flatfish available are:

Names of Flat Fish

  • Flounder
  • Sole
  • Halibut
  • Turbot
Flounder has a lean firm flesh that is pearly white with a sweet mild flavor. We recommend poaching, steaming and frying this type of fish.
Sole has many different types of fish/species associated with it. Flounder is sometimes marketed as Sole due to the popularity of Sole. They are a lean fish species and one of the most flavorful available. Any flatfish caught in North America and sold as Sole is actually flounder. There is English Sole (Flounder), Petrale Sole (Flounder), Dover Sole (Flounder), Lemon Sole (Flounder)

Flounder (Also known as Sole)

Atlantic Ocean Pacific Ocean
Blackback/Winter Flounder/Lemon sole Arrowtooth
Fluke/Summer Flounder Petrale Sole
Starry Flounder Rex Sole
Yellowtail English Sole
Windowpane Flounder Rock Sole
Grey Sole/Witch Flounder Sand Sole
Yellowfin Sole
Domestic Dover Sole/Pacific Flounder
Butter Sole

Halibut is the largest available flatfish species and is very popular due to its appealing texture, color, and a sweet, mild taste. It is a lean fish that absorbs flavor well and is best poached baked, grilled or broiled. It goes well with many sauces.
Turbot is a different type of fish that is a Pacific flatfish with no real culinary distinction. Turbot has a delicate flavor and firm lean flesh.

The Shellfish Family and the Various Species and Types

The Different Types of Mollusks

different types of fish univalve clams
Bivalve Cherrystone Clams

There are two categories of mollusks available – Univalve and bi-valve. Mollusks are sea creatures who have a hard outer shell that protects their soft interior. Mollusks can be prepared in a variety of ways, each of which has its benefits in flavor and texture.

Univalve Mollusks

Univalve mollusks have a single shell that protects the creature. Univalve mollusks are actually marine snails with a single foot which they use to fix on objects such as rocks.

Abalone has a brownish-grey and ear-shaped shell. They are harvested in California but are canned out of state. Frozen abalone is available from Mexico and canned abalone can come from Japan. Abalone is lean with a sweet and delicate flavor similar to clams. They are too tough to eat unless they are tenderized first with a mallet or rolling pin. They can be eaten raw or prepared seviche-style. When sauteing or grilling abalone, great care must be taken as the meat will become tough if overcooked.

Conch are found in the warm waters off of the Florida Keys and in the Caribbean. The beautiful pink peachy shell of the queen conch is prized by beachcombers. Conch meat is lean, smooth and very firm. It has a sweet, smoky flavor and a chewy texture. It can be sliced and pounded to tenderize, eaten raw or slow-cooked whole.

Bivalve Mollusks

Bi-valve mollusks have a number of members, most of which you are already familiar with. They have two bilateral shells joined by a hinge.

oyster shellfish type on platter
Oysters on the half shell


Clam is a name given to a wide variety of edible species. They are harvested along both the east and west coasts, with the Atlantic clams being more significant commercially. Atlantic Coast clams include hard-shell, soft-shell and surf clams. Clams are available all year either live in the shell or freshly shucked. Canned clams are also available.

Atlantic Hard-Shell Clams or Quahogs have hard, blue-grey shells. Their chewy meat is not as sweet as other types of clam meat. Quahogs have different names, depending on their size. Littlenecks are under 2 in. across the shell and are served on the half shell or steamed. They are the most expensive clams. Cherrystones are generally under 3 inches across and are eaten raw but are most often cooked. Topnecks are usually cooked and are served as stuffed clams. Chowders, the largest quahogs are always eaten cooked and are used for chowders and soups.

Soft-Shell Clams which are also known as Ipswich, steamer, and long-necked clams, have thin and brittle shells that cannot completely close due to the clam’s protruding black-tipped siphon. They are tender and sweet and are served steamed, but can also be fried.

Surf Clams are deep-water clams that can reach sizes of 8 inches across. They are often cut into strips for frying or minced, chopped, processed and then canned.

Pacific Clams are too tough to be eaten raw. The most common is the Manila Clam, which was introduced along the Pacific Coast in the 30’s. It resembles a quahog with a ridged shell. Steam and serve it on the half shell.

Geoducks are the largest Pacific clam. It can get to a weight of up to 10 pounds each. They look like huge soft-shell clams with a large protruding siphon. They have a rich, tender body and a briny flavor. Popular in many Asian cuisines.

Red River Clam is another variety which is commercially available.

Cockles are small bivalves that are about 1 inch long. They have a ridged shell. They are more popular in Europe than they are in North America and are used in dishes such as paella and fish soups and stews.


Mussels are found in waters worldwide. They are one of the more popular bivalve clams for cooking and are excellent steamed in wine or seasoned broth. They can be fried or used in soups or pasta dishes.

Blue Mussels are the most common edible mussel. They are found in the wild along the Atlantic Coast and are farmed commercially. They have plump and sweet meat with a firm and muscular texture. The orange-yellow meat of farmed mussels tends to be much larger than the wild mussels and are more sought after. Blue mussels are sold live in the shell and average around 10 to 20 per pound. The best quality blue mussels are harvested in the winter months, although they are available year-round.

Green Shell Mussels come from New Zealand and Thailand. They are much larger and average of around 8 to 12 mussels per pound. Their shells are a paler grey and have a distinctive bright green edge.


Oysters have a rough grey shell. They have a soft, grey and briny flesh. They can be eaten raw or cooked. You will find oysters sold in the shell or shucked and are best eaten live but take well to steamed or baked in the shell. You can find a shucked oyster breaded and deep-fried, pan-fried and sauteed. They are commonly added to stews or chowders. The types of oysters include Atlantic Oyster, European flat oyster, Olympias, and Pacific oysters.

Atlantic Oysters, which are also called American or Eastern oysters. They have a darker, flatter shell than other oysters. Mapleque oysters from Prince Edward Island are considered the finest.

European Flat Oysters are often called Belon but are mistaken. True Belon oysters are found only in the Belon river of France. These oysters are very round and flat and look like giant brownish Olympias.

Olympias are the only oysters native to the Pacific Coast. They are tiny, around 1 inch across.

Pacific Oysters are also called Japanese Oysters, are farmed along the Pacific Coast. They have curly, thick striated shells and silvery-grey to gold to almost white meat.

Although it may appear as if there are hundreds of oyster species on the market, there are only two that are significant. The Atlantic oyster and the Pacific Oyster. Within these two species yield dozens of different varieties depending on their origin. A good example is some Atlantic oysters may be referred to as bluepoints, Malpeque, Florida Gulf, Long Island and so on. While Pacific oysters include Westcott Bay, Kumamoto, Penn Cove Select, Hamma-Hamma. 

Oysters are in their prime during the winter months, particularly from Late December until mid-April.

Scallops contain an edible white adductor muscle that holds both sides of the shell together. This is the part in which you buy while the rest of the scallop goes unused. They come in a variety of sizes and are great in stews, chowders. They are best fried but need care as overcooking can cause toughness and stringiness. The most important commercial scallops are sea scallop, calico scallop, and bay scallop.Sea scallops are the largest averaging 20 to 30 per pound. Larger sea scallops are available as well. Bay scallops average 70 to 90 per pound. Calico scallops average 70 to 109 per pound.
Shucked, cleaned scallops fresh or frozen are the most common type sold, but live scallops in the shell and shucked scallops with roe attached are also available. Scallops are sweet, with a tender texture. They should be translucent and ivory in color. They can be steamed, broiled, grilled, fried, sauteed, and baked. Scallops can become very tough if overcooked so care is needed.


Cephalopods are park of the mollusk family that does not have an outer shell. The most popular of the cephalopods include octopus and squid. They are a mollusk with a distinct head near the mouth and a sack-like fin bearing mantle. They do not have an outer shell but rather an internal shell called a cuttlebone or pen.

Octopus is generally very tough and requires mechanical tenderization or long, moist-heat cooking to render a palatable and tender product. You generally want to simmer an octopus for many hours and never boil. If octopus meat is boiled, it will turn out very tough. Once you have tenderized the octopus it can further prepared by grilling, frying or baking. It has white lean flesh and is flavorful

Most octopuses are imported from Portugal, although fresh ones are available on the East coast during the winter months. It is sold by the kilogram or pound, fresh or frozen. Octopus skin is grey when raw and turns purple when cooked. It has a white, lean, firm and flavorful flesh.

grilled octopus mollusk
Grilled Octopus

Squid is the most popular cephalopod that many people have tried and enjoy. It is not as tough as octopus and can be prepared in a multitude of methods. Overcooking squid can cause the flesh to become rubbery and unappealing. Proper cooking, as with the scallop, is required to ensure a good product. Squid are also known by their Italian name calamari and are increasingly becoming popular in North America. They are similar to an octopus, but are much smaller.

Squid are harvested along both the North and South American coasts and elsewhere around the world. The finest squids are the east coast Loligo squid or winter squid. They range from 8 to 10 per pound. The meat is white/ivory in color, turning a darker color with age. It is moderately lean, a bit sweet, firm and tender. But just like an octopus, if overcooked they will toughen up quickly.


A crustacean is found in both fresh and saltwater. They are defined by having a hard outer shell with jointed appendages that protects their sweet, tender meat. There are many types of crustaceans and each has its own qualities.

A crayfish can be called crawfish or crawdad, but they all refer to the same species. They have an appearance of a miniature lobster and most of the meat is found in the tail. The flesh is sweet and lean. Crayfish can be simmered whole and served hot or cold. The tail meat can be used in deep frying, soups or pan-fried. It is a staple in Cajun cuisine.

They range in size between 3.5 to 7 inches in length and maybe sold live or precooked and frozen. The lean meat is mostly found in the tail and is sweet and tender. You can cook crayfish boiled whole and served hot or cold. The tail meat can take to deepfrying and can also be used in soups, bisques, or sauces. Crayfish can be sold mistakenly as a lobster on menus in restaurants.


Crabs are found along North American cost lines in great numbers. There are a number of varieties of crab, each with their own flavor and texture. Their meat is highly versatile and can be used in soups, stews, curries, and casseroles to name a few. The crab should always be cooked live and you should not use dead crabs unless just recently killed. The varieties are as follows:

  • King Crab
  • Dungeness
  • Blue Crab
  • Snow/Spider Crab
  • Stone Crab

King crab is the most sought-after due to its very sweet and tender flavor. It is the largest crab and is caught in the cold water of the North Pacific. King Crabs are always sold frozen, usually in the shell. They range around 10 pounds in weight and are caught in the cold waters of the North Pacific. The show Deadliest Catch famously follows trappers catching king crabs. King crabs are always sold frozen, usually in its shell.

Dungeness crab is the most popular variety found due to its delicate meat and sweet flavor, availability, and price. They are sold live or precooked. They range in size of around 5 pounds.

king crab legs crustaceans
King Crab Legs

The blue crab is found along the eastern seaboard and accounts for 50% of all crab harvested in the US. Their meat is sweet and rich and is available as soft-shell or hard-shell. Soft-shell crab is those harvested within 6 hours of molting. Crab is available from May 15 – September 15. Hard-shell crabs are sold live, precooked and frozen or as picked meat. They can be sauteed, fried, broiled or added to soups and stews. They range in size from 4 to 7 inches in diameter.
Snow crabs or spider crabs are an abundant species and are often substituted for the scarcer and more expensive King Crab. They get harvested in the northern North American Alaskan and British Columbian waters. They get sold precooked and usually frozen. Its meat can be used for soups, omelets, salads. 
Stone crabs are generally available as cooked claws, either fresh or frozen. The meat is firm with a sweet flavor that is close to lobsters. They get served hot or cold with cocktail sauce, lemons, or butter sauces. They are sold frozen raw because the meat sticks to the shell. When stone crab is fished, only the claws are harvested. When returned to the water, the snow crab regenerates a new claw. The claws average around 2.5 to 5.5 oz each. It is firm, with a similar texture to lobster.


Lobsters have a brown-black outer shell and have firm white meat with a rich, sweet flavor. Lobster shells turn red when cooked and take well to poached, steamed, simmered, baked or grilled and served hot or cold. Lobsters should be alive until before cooking. Dead lobsters are not used. The coral (eggs) a prized delicacy.
Atlantic Lobsters have edible meat in both the tail and the claws. They are considered the best-flavored meat compared to other lobsters. They come from the cold water along the northeast coast and are often sold live. Atlantic lobster are purchased by weight. You can also find some sold as culls as they only have one claw. Bullets are lobsters with no claws.

The lobster is made up of several parts. There is the CoralTomalley, and Stomach. The coral and tomalley can be eaten while the stomach is not.

Spiny Lobsters have very small claws and are valuable only for their tails. The tails are notched with short spines. Almost all spiny lobsters marketed are sold as frozen tails, often identified as rock lobster. Found all over the world, spiny lobsters found off Florida and in the Carribean are sold as warm-water tails while those from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are called cold-water tails. Coldwater tails are considered the superior variety.

Slipper lobster, lobsterette, and squat lobster arfe all clawless species found in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters worldwide. They are popular in some countries but their meat is inferior to other varieties.

Shrimp and prawns are found worldwide and are very popular. The difference between the terms shrimp and prawn is the location where it was caught. Freshwater prawns are referred to as prawns while marine species are referred to like shrimp.  In commercial practice, a prawn is considered to be a large variety of shrimp. There are dozens of varieties available and are often classified by size. They are highly versatile and can be prepared using a wide array of cooking methods.

This article should help you familiarize yourself with the vast amount of available fish and shellfish. The proper cooking methods used to produce a superior product.
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The Culinary Cook

Professional Chef & Blogger

With 15 years of experience working in restaurants, resorts, and a fully Red Seal Certified chef, The Culinary Cook shares tips, tricks, and recipes for everyone to enjoy.

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