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Cooking with Striped Bass

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Striped bass, right out of the water

Striped bass, right out of the water

Hank Shaw

Striped bass, also known as stripers, pimpfish, or rockfish as they're called in the South, are one of the most sought-after fish in North America. They are native to the East Coast and migrate from fresh water to salt water, swimming up the rivers each spring to spawn, then spending their time in the ocean cruising the shallow waters in search of a meal. New England stripers can run in excess of 70 pounds, but they are most often caught at around 5-8 pounds.

Stripers have also been planted in lakes, and have gone native in California, where they are the second-most prized fish after chinook salmon.

How to Cook Striped Bass

From an eating standpoint, stripers are at their best between 18 inches -- the legal minimum -- and 36 inches, or three feet. Larger bass become coarser in texture and, because they are a top predator where they live, they can accumulate levels of heavy metals that are dangerous to young children and pregnant women.

The meat of a striped bass is a happy medium between flaky and meaty. Its texture lies between cod or sole and swordfish or tuna. Its taste, like most fish, varies depending on where it was caught and what it was eating. In general, however, the taste is rich, sapid and minerally.

Above all, stripers are versatile. No matter what you feel like doing, from batter frying them to smoking them to poaching in court boullion, striped bass can handle it.

And don't forget the collars, which are the triangles of meat behind the gills. Marinated and grilled, they are in my opinion the best part of the fish -- after the cheeks, that is. Cheeks are discs of meat on the fish's head, and in a large striper, make an appetizer for two that beats all but the finest diver scallop.

Get started with some of these favorite striped bass recipes:

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