Last Updated: June 30, 2020
As we work our way through the supermarket with our Produce Explained Series, I’m sure you are well-versed with the likes of salt, oil, rice, leafy vegetables and more. On this next instalment, we’ll be taking a deep dive into one of the many treasures of the sea: fish.
As a caveat, I need to mention that this is list is introductory and not exhaustive. There are many different types of fish and variations within the same species, which is just too much to cover. Still, with this list, you’ll be able to differentiate pomfret from sardine and know which fish is more suited for frying or steaming.
If you do pop by your local supermarket, you’ll realise that your choice of fish is somewhat limited. To get to know the myriad of fish that’s out there, you’ll want to visit the wet market.
That’s where you’ll find nearly all the different types of fish; some will be familiar to you while for the others, your mother or grandmother will know better.
Another endearing and charming quality about our wet markets is that there are usually no neatly printed signs with the English names like that of a supermarket.
To find out exactly what kind of fish you are holding, you’ll need to have a chat with your fishmonger, and if you’re nice to them, they’ll even tell you the best way to prepare said fish. Since they aren’t commonly known by their English names, these fish are probably recognised by their Hokkien, Malay and even Chinese name.
To ease you in when bagging your next red snapper or grouper, I’ve also included all the names they are commonly known by whenever applicable. A trip to the wet market is an experience like no other for us millennials, and you’ll be surprised by the treasures you can find there.
Without further ado, here are 14 types of fish that you should know, from salmon to soon hock.
I think salmon needs no introduction. With its trademark orange hue that is interspersed with gleaming white strips of fat, salmon has to be one of the most recognisable fish in the sea of fish.
Salmon is a pretty oily fish with high amounts of proteins, and they’re full of Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Most of our salmon comes from fish farms up in Norway, or they are wild-caught in the same waters.
There has been some debate about which one is healthier since farmed salmon is often fed the artificial carotenoid astaxanthin to get that pink-orange colour that wild salmon usually has from the shellfish they consume. Plus, wild salmon would contain less fat than farmed salmon since they swim over more extensive areas, contributing to their leaner build.
Wait, don’t throw in the towel in farmed salmon yet. Given the success of aquaculture and the ease of producing large quantities of fish, fish farming has reduced the impact of overfishing and kept prices low.
Not to mention, because of the pollution in our waters, wild-caught salmon might not be preferred because of the bio-accumulation of mercury and toxins. A bit of a Catch-22, right? It all boils down to your sources and where you get your fish from.
If you can get your hands on wild-caught, go for it! Otherwise, regular farmed salmon is still a pretty good option.
Salmon is a pretty versatile fish and can be used in most cooking methods. Whether it’s fried, baked, smoked, or sashimi form, it’s familiar and comforting. Not to mention, with all those Omega-3 fatty acids, this fish is a popular choice if you are following the Mediterranean diet.
You’ll recognise tuna from its cherry-red colouring in the form of tuna steaks. Or if you enjoy a good tuna melt, then you’ll know the flaky bits from canned tuna.
Compared to salmon, tuna doesn’t have as much fat. So, if you are looking for something with a little more protein, tuna is a good bet.
Just like every type of fish here, there are many different kinds of tuna you can catch, including yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna, bluefin tuna and skipjack tuna.
If you enjoy your sushi, you’re looking at the prized (though highly endangered) bluefin fin tuna. Those who are sushi fiends would know that bluefin tuna is highly sought-after and its belly is the crown jewel. While tuna might have relatively little fat, all the fats are stored in the belly and have such impressive marbling that it can rival an expensive cut of beef.
Bluefin tuna is so highly-prized that a single fish (which is quite large) can fetch a staggering S$2.4 million for one.
There’s a lot you can do with tuna, the easiest being a tuna melt sandwich with canned tuna. Then you are looking at either the albacore or skipjack tuna. Sashimi-grade yellowtail or ahi tuna is used in poke bowls or sushi rolls.
For tuna steak, I suggest you treat it exactly like how you would beef. Season your tuna well, give it a good sear but leave it nice and pink in the centre. For me, that’s the best way to enjoy a good tuna steak.
Snappers have these striking red scales (and can fetch you a good number of bells in Animal Crossing). Amongst all the snappers, the Red Snapper is the most popular. Snapper is also known as Ikan Merah, or Ang Goi, and it’s one of the most common snappers you’ll find in the market.
They have cousins of course, but we’ll put off meeting the family for now.
Snapper is known for its delicate and tender flesh that doesn’t flake apart. Red snapper is a popular choice for Cantonese style steaming or used in steamboats—an affordable and readily available option in the wet market.
Since they are so readily available, you’ll find snapper used in the various dishes in zi char stalls. Most famously, snapper is used in curry fish head as well.
The Spanish Mackerel (or more commonly known as Batang) has a long and striped body. This easily identifiable fish also has a thick silver rubbery skin. Batang is otherwise known as 马鲛鱼 Ma Jiao Yu (in Mandarin) or Ikan Tenggiri (in Malay).
The batang fish is firm and meaty, almost resembling chicken breast when fried. These fish are pretty strong swimmers that often dash across the ocean floor, which is why they have such a streamlined, muscular shape—the Michael Phelps of the sea, if you will.
One of the more defining features is that the Batang has no scales, so this saves you the hassle of descaling.
One of the most common uses of batang has to be ever-comforting fish soup. Thick, sizeable slices of this clean tasting fish are what you’ll want.
A fish that is high in protein and those coveted Omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a good choice for your mid-week dinner.
Given its rich flavour and firm texture, the Spanish mackerel is also used in another hawker classic, the otak otak. You know the drill—fish pounded with sambal, then wrapped in banana leaf and grilled over charcoal.
The grouper is a doozy, and you’ll know what I mean when you see how many varieties of grouper there are.
There is everything from the Mouse Grouper to the Coral Grouper to the Giant Grouper. Perhaps one defining trait has to be those spots, something I’m sure Cruella De Vil would yearn to have.
There are many types of groupers, but one that takes centre stage has to be Red Grouper, more commonly known as 红石斑鱼 Hong Shi Ban Yu (in Mandarin), Ang Kao (in Hokkien) or Hong Sek Ban (in Cantonese).
In the market, you can easily spot the red grouper with its distinctive bluish polka dots and its curved body.
The red grouper is most commonly found in Chinese dishes and it’s appreciated for its auspicious red colour. So, you’ll see the grouper making an appearance during important occasions such as Chinese News Year, birthdays and weddings.
As with any fresh catch of the day, you don’t want to mar its natural flavour with an overload of seasonings, especially with a fish like grouper.
The best way to enjoy grouper is to have it steamed, which is a common and more preferred option you’ll find at most Cantonese restaurants. This way, you can taste the freshness and sweetness of the fish.
Heavy cooking methods such as deep-frying will mask the natural texture of the fish and risk overcooking such a delicate fish.
Cod is another fish that will cost you a pretty penny. Also known as Chilean Seabass or Patagonian Toothfish, this prized catch is highly coveted amongst chefs.
This snowy-white fillet is buttery, smooth and creamy. Not to mention, cod is also chock-full of those Omega-3 fatty acids that come with a whole multitude of benefits. If you are wondering about the rather hefty price tag on cod, it is because there is limited harvesting allowed on this fish to prevent its extinction.
So, treasure each cod fillet you can get your hands on, because it might be gone soon.
You can pretty much prepare cod any way you like. Baked, fried, steamed or pan-fried, this slippery fish will make a tasty meal.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Stingrays aren’t fish!’. Believe it or not, the definition of what constitutes a fish is pretty loose. A being is classified as a fish if it breathes through gills and has no digits. Therefore, stingrays are classified as fish—and a rather cartilaginous fish at that.
Stingray has a dense and somewhat chewy texture, and some would even describe stingray as a mix of scallop and lobster. The most prized parts of the stingray would be the wings, the ‘cheek’ and the liver.
When it comes to stingray, it is my opinion that it has to come barbecued and smothered in fiery sambal. All you need is an ice-cold pint and a piping plate of sambal stingray, and you’re golden. For the ultimate experience, savour sambal stingray at Stingray Forever BBQ Seafood located in East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Pomfret is a broad and flat-nosed fish that is synonymous with Teochew culture.
If you are from a Teochew household, the pomfret would be a common sight growing up. Even more so when Chinese New Year rolls around, and your mother and grandmother are gloating about who got the better deal on pomfret this year.
There are four kinds of pomfret you can find in the wet market. The Chinese silver pomfret, better known as 斗鲳 Dòu Chāng (in Mandarin) and Dao Chior (in Hokkien), is the most expensive and the more preferred out of the four, seeing as it is bigger in stature and more flavourful.
Contrary to its name, the Chinese silver pomfret is not silver in colour but has more of a pewter-like hue. The silver pomfret (白鲳 Bai Chang in Mandarin), on the other hand, lives up to its name with bright silver-whitish skin.
The other two varieties of pomfret are the more economical relatives of the Chinese silver pomfret. The black pomfret (黑鲳 Hei Chang in Mandarin) has much darker colouring and has a much coarser texture than the previous two.
Though the golden pomfret (金鲳 Jin Chang in Mandarin) is called ‘pomfret’, it’s actually a pompano which looks similar to a pomfret, hence why it was probably adopted into the family. You can identify the golden pomfret from its yellow fins.
Pomfret is very popular in Teochew cooking, with steaming as the preferring method of preparing pomfret. If you like Teochew porridge, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Almost every Teochew porridge place would have a fridge somewhere in the back, housing some of the freshest catch of the day. Amongst these fish, pomfret would definitely be one of them.
The Chinese silver pomfret and silver pomfret are ideal candidates for steaming; the fish is usually stuffed with aromatics such as ginger, then steamed.
The black and golden pomfret are more suited to frying and is served covered with sauce.
The yellowstripe scad—commonly known as ikan kuning—needs no introduction. A rather small fish, you’ll spot a bright yellow stripe running laterally across its body, which gives it the name “yellowstripe scad”.
The ikan kuning is a fatty and oily fish, which makes it ideal for frying. This fish is flavourful and rather inexpensive, which makes it a popular catch at the market.
This little number sure packs a punch when fried and is often accompanies a plate of nasi lemak. As an avid nasi lemak fanatic, I have to have this crispy fish on my plate for sure.
Barramundi or Asian Sea Bass is a typical white fish that is served in Chinese restaurants. This fish is also known as 金目鲈 jin mu lu (in Chinese), kim bak lor (in Hokkien) and ikan siakap (in Malay).
The barramundi has a silver-grey body with a slightly upturned mouth. This high protein fish is also full of hearty, healthy Omega-3, so if you’re a little sick of salmon, barramundi might be your next fish of choice,
Moreover, barramundi has gained popularity as of late because of the ease of farming and the sustainable practices that come with raising barramundi. That means it’s also less expensive in the supermarket and more readily available.
While barramundi has about the same amount of Omega-3 as salmon, it has nearly half the number of calories. This makes it a lean protein source for those looking to make healthier choices.
Barramundi also has a firm texture and slightly earthy taste to it. This mild-tasting fish is suitable for panfrying, baking and grilling.
The marble goby or soon hock is a unique little number. This premium wild-caught fish is the ultimate status symbol. A popular fish that you’ll see swimming in the tanks of high-end Chinese restaurants, you have probably fought over the last piece of soon hock with your cousins at the dinner table.
Marble goby derives its name from its marble-like skin and succulent white flesh.
Since this fish is wild-caught, this means the supply is somewhat unpredictable, which gives rise to its high price point. This buttery fish is a common sight in Cantonese restaurants.
Soon hock is usually prepared Cantonese-style, where the fish is steamed with aromatics such as ginger, spring onion and coriander. Then, it’s finished with hot oil and a light soy sauce dressing—the best way to enjoy soon hock, if you ask me.
You can also find soon hock deep-fried and covered with a rich sauce, but I find that it masks a lot of the natural flavour of the fish.
The favourite of fitness fanatics, sutchi fillets or ‘dory fish‘ is the preferred protein if you want to watch your calories. If you’re wondering what exactly are sutchi fillets, they’re Vietnamese catfish called Pangasius. Sometimes, they might be referred to as cream dory on the packet.
Sutchi fillets are pretty firm with slightly lower levels of Omega-3, but its cheaper price point makes it one of the most-consumed fish in the world.
This is because the Vietnamese catfish doesn’t require a lot of space and that might sometimes lead to farmers cutting corners about hygiene and health of the fish. For that reason, it’s always good to check where your fish is sourced from when purchasing your sutchi fillets.
Sutchi can be prepared in a multitude of ways, but since this fish has very little fat, you have to be careful not to overcook this lest it becomes dried cardboard flakes that get lodged uncomfortably in your throat.
Anchovies are these little pungent fish that you’ll find packed in can or jars. These saltwater fish are usually found in large schools and are structurally similar to sardines.
Anchovies have a very thin layer of scales, so their skin is entirely edible. There are a couple of varieties of anchovies, but the most common is from the Peruvian anchovy fishery, while the rest are from Japan and Europe.
This dainty fish is usually packed in salt and oil which cures them and contributes to that funky and robust flavour.
Unlike canned anchovies, fresh anchovies are not as pungent or strongly-flavoured as their canned counterparts. In Barcelona, fresh anchovies are enjoyed as tapas as well.
Because of all that brining, anchovies are little umami bombs. They are often used in sauces such as Worcestershire sauce, remoulade and Vietnamese fish sauce. I like frying my canned anchovies in a little bit of olive oil and garlic for my pasta dishes to add a bit of briny, salty goodness.
Sardines are perhaps one of the most common canned fish you’ll know. After all, who can forget the bleary-eyed primary school breakfast of tomato sardines on bread?
Sardines are a nutrient-rich oily fish that are commonly found canned or pickled. Sardines are small, but they pack a punch; rich in vitamins and minerals, it’s almost a superfood. Moreover, sardines are rather low on the food chain, so they contain lesser mercury.
If you do manage to get your hands on the fresh sardines, I would highly recommend you grill these sardines with a good lashing of olive oil and salt. Effortless and straightforward, it’s the perfect summer meal. The canned variety isn’t too shabby either.
There are still several ways you can incorporate sardines into your meals, including putting them in your pasta or over your bread, for a nutrient-rich meal.
It turns out there are indeed too many fish in the sea. We haven’t even touched on the other school of fish used in sashimi!
As we learn more about this wonderful protein, you’ll realise important issues such as sustainability and pollution come into play. Our fish stocks are not infinite, and there might come a time when the nets come up empty.
While it might seem like we can’t do much, just knowing where your fish is sourced can perhaps alleviate this problem and promise cheaper otoro sushi. After all, I want to feast on sashimi till I’m 90, don’t you?