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Cooking with Pacific Surfperch


A pair of Pacific surfperch

A pair of Pacific surfperch

Holly Heyser

Pacific surfperch are a shore angler's staple:

Pacific surperch are tasty little fish that, from an eating perspective, fit in with their distant cousins the rockfish, snapper, seabass, porgy and bream. Any recipes you find for these fish will work with surfperch. Perch will grow to 4 pounds, but are most often caught far smaller.

Several kinds of surfperch exist, including the rubberlips (pictured above), redtail, calico and barred surfperch. None are real perches at all, however. They can be found from Alaska to Baja California and are easily caught from piers, jetties and beaches.

You will find these fish in West Coast markets all year long, mainly in Asian stores. They are almost always sold whole or scaled and gutted.

If you have a choice, choose the redtail surfperch; they are noticeably tastier. As for rubberlips, be careful that you get them from clean waters, as they are filter feeders and can live in polluted water.

You should not bother to fillet surfperch unless they are more than 2 pounds -- otherwise you waste too much meat. They are best grilled whole (scaled and gutted), or crispy-fried Asian-style. Instructions for this are linked below.

You can use their heads and bones to make passable stock, but surfperch tend to be a little oily for a truly refined stock.

Bottom line on surfperch: Serve them scaled and gutted, either grilled, crispy-fried or steamed Asian-style.

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