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Pacific White Seabass, or California Sea Bass

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White Seabass: Firm, Flavorful -- Sustainable:

Pacific white seabass was a fish unknown to me until I moved from the East to California. It's even rare here in Northern California, as this fish largely lives in the kelp forests of Southern California.

When I first bought it -- a big thick fish steak -- I reckoned it would be like striped bass. I was wrong. White seabass, also known as corvina or king croaker, is not a bass at all, it is a member of the drum family. It's a cousin of the redfish of Louisiana, the weakfish of the Mid-Atlantic states or the ubiquitous spot and croaker that range from the Delaware Bay down to the Carolinas.

Now striped bass is not an especially firm fish. White seabass is. It's so firm I was taken aback: The fish tasted a lot like sturgeon, which is among the firmest fish around. This white seabass was meaty, mouth-filling, muscular; a manly man's fish. It's definitely not meant for delicate steaming or poaching in broth.

Nope, put the spurs to the next piece of white seabass you find. It's perfect for the grill, great seared hard in a pan, broiled or even slow-cooked in a barbecue. It did not seem fatty enough to smoke properly, but white seabass would be perfect slowly simmered in olive oil and then eaten cold in a salad.

If you are on the West Coast, seek out white seabass. Not only is it a fantastic eating fish, it is considered a "best choice" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which monitors the health of fisheries worldwide. Most white seabass are caught by hook and line, and the populations have increased dramatically since being overfished in the 1960s and 1970s.

You will probably not find white seabass in any way you will recognize it; the fish is typically cut into large fillets or steaks. The skin is a gun-metal silver, and the meat is white, but not shockingly so. It should have some brick-red muscle along the center line.

If you don't live in the West, white seabass freezes well so you can buy it frozen. And if you happen to see recipes for white seabass, know that you can substitute sturgeon, grouper, thresher shark, mako shark, mahi mahi (dorado), or even swordfish -- if you can find hook-and-line caught swordfish steaks.

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