Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Golden Tilefish

This year I have been pushing my seafood vendors to find me new species for the menu. In part, this is because I am a restless chef and want to serve different things to my customers and different things from other restaurants. And in part, it's because I worry about the ecological impacts of serving the same old species time and again. Hence this Golden Tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) on my cutting board.

Most fish that I see on the market run between five and fifteen pounds (2-7kg). The one pictured here is a 15-pounder of about 3 feet in length. If you click on the small image to view the larger one, you can see the prominent gold spots on this fish, hence the name, and the fleshy flap on top of its head.

All the specifies of tilefish that I have worked with have huge heads: I would guess that one third of the weight is in the head. The huge head coupled with a relatively wide and large ribcage means that yield from a fish is poor. I estimate that yield from landed weight has got to be on the order of 35-45%. The ribcage is extensive and makes taking the filets off a tilefish fairly difficult. The fish skins readily and easily, however.

The flesh is pinkish and slightly translucent, becoming white during cooking. The cooked flesh is not highly flaky and tastes a bit of shellfish. Customer reaction to this fish is highly positive. Tilefish stays moist even when fully cooked, but it tastes great even when not fully cooked. I tend to aim for about medium to medium well when cooking this species. It reminds me slightly of lobster, monkfish, and orange roughy.

Currently, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Golden Tilefish harvested from the mid-Atlantic, where this one was fished, is a reasonable alternative fish. Mid-Atlantic stocks are rebounding.

For more reading, see this excellent monograph by the American Littoral Society.

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