For family meals or special dinners, white fish is a great choice. Low in fat and high in protein, white fish is enhanced by subtle flavourings and textures.
Types of white fish
Most white fish fall into 2 main categories: round and flat.
- Round fish, such as cod or haddock, have rounded bodies and eyes on either side of the head. They swim with the back fin uppermost.
- Flatfish, such as plaice or sole, have both eyes on their upper side and the skin there is usually marked as a form of camouflage. Flatfish lead an inactive life on the sea bed, so their flesh has little muscle tone. This makes it delicate and particularly easy to eat and digest.
White fish contain nutritious oils, mainly concentrated in the liver. Some of these—cod and halibut liver oils for example—have long been used as dietary supplements.
Fish liver oils contain vitamin A which is essential for healthy vision; vitamin D, essential for growth and the absorption of calcium, vitamin E which works as an antioxidant, and omega-3 fatty acids.
All the healthy cooking methods, such as steaming, poaching and grilling, work well for white fish.
Read more: An A–Z guide to preparing shellfish
The A-Z of white fish
There are almost 200 different species of bream, of which the best to eat is the gilt-head or dorade—a beautiful fish with dense, juicy white flesh.
Bream are usually sold whole or in fillets, and it is essential that their scales be removed before cooking. Sea bream is an excellent source of niacin, a B vitamin involved in the release of energy from food, and of vitamin B12.
The firm, succulent white flesh of this popular fish becomes deliciously flaky when cooked.
Most commonly sold cut into fillets or steaks, cod can also be bought whole and poached or baked. It is an excellent source of iodine, which plays a part in converting food into energy, and a useful source of potassium.
This smaller relative of the cod has softer, more delicate flesh. At its best in winter and early spring, when the cold has firmed up the flesh, it is generally sold as fillets and should be cooked with the skin on.
It is an excellent source of iodine and provides useful amounts of potassium and vitamin B6.
When very fresh this member of the cod family has firm, lean flesh. It contains few bones and must not be overcooked or it will fall apart.
It is usually sold whole or as fillets or steaks. Hake is a good source of phosphorus, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and a useful source of potassium.
Largest of all the flatfish, halibut has dense, meaty flesh that can be dry if not carefully cooked. It is possible to buy whole small fish, known as chicken halibut, but larger fish are usually sold cut into steaks.
Halibut is a good source of niacin, and the large roes provide vitamin C.
Although technically a round fish, the body of the John Dory is so slim that it looks almost like a flatfish swimming upright. Its flesh is firm and succulent.
John Dory is a good source of phosphorus and a useful source of potassium, which is needed to regulate blood pressure.
This extraordinarily ugly fish has a huge head and a relatively small body. Only the tail is eaten, and it is sold whole or as fillets. The flesh is meaty and firm with a superb flavour.
Monkfish is an excellent source of phosphorus and provides useful amounts of potassium.
Read more: The best ways to cook fish
There are 2 types of mullet: red and grey. Red mullet has beautiful reddish-gold skin and lean, firm flesh that tastes a bit like lobster. Being a small fish, it is usually sold whole.
The larger grey mullet is a dark silvery colour and has lean, well-flavoured flesh. Grey mullet is sold whole or as fillets, and must be scaled before cooking. The roes, which contain vitamin C, are a delicacy pan-fried and eaten fresh; when dried they are used to make taramasalata. Mullet contains useful amounts of potassium.
This flatfish has distinctive dark skin spotted with orange. The very soft white flesh can be bland, although it is easy to digest.
Sold whole or as fillets, plaice must be very fresh or it will have a woolly texture, and it is best avoided in summer as it is in poor condition after spawning in the spring.
Plaice provides many B vitamins–excellent B12 and good B1, B6 and niacin–and it is a useful source of potassium.
The delicate flesh of this sleek silvery fish has a superb flavour and holds its shape well during cooking.
Sold whole or as fillets or steaks, it must be scaled before cooking. Bass is a good source of calcium.
This fish doesnt need much to accompany it to improve the taste - but lemon and garlic will compliment the flavour of the dish, be sure to use a high quality garlic slicer to ensure you are slicing garlic properly and it doesnt come out too chunky.
Only the "wings" (actually large, flat pectoral fins) of this cartilaginous fish are generally sold, ready skinned. Skate is best in autumn and winter. Even when very fresh it has an ammoniac smell, but this disappears during cooking.
The soft pinkish flesh, which is easily scraped off the cartilage after cooking, has a sweet flavour and its gelatinous quality makes it ideal for fish terrines and mousses.
Skate contains excellent levels of vitamin B12, which is vital for the maintenance of a healthy nervous system, and useful amounts of vitamins B1, B6 and niacin as well as potassium.
There are many varieties of these flatfish, including dabs, lemon sole and witch or Torbay sole, but the finest–and most expensive–is Dover sole.
This superb fish has firm, juicy flesh with a delicious flavour. Depending on size, sole are sold whole or filleted. They provide useful amounts of vitamin B12 and potassium.
Recipe suggestion: Sole goujons with tartare dip
This huge game fish has no scales or teeth but a long sword-like nose. Its meaty flesh, usually sold as steaks, can easily dry out, so it is best marinated before cooking.
Swordfish is very nutritious, providing excellent amounts of selenium, niacin and vitamin B12 as well as useful quantities of potassium.
Sold whole or as fillets, tilapia has lean, moist flesh that contains excellent levels of phosphorus, good amounts of calcium and useful quantities of potassium.
The dark, warty skin of this large flatfish conceals dense, meaty flesh with a wonderful flavour. It is usually sold as fillets. Smaller "chicken turbot" are sometimes available, and can be cooked whole to serve 4.
Turbot is an excellent source of niacin and also offers good amounts of phosphorus and useful quantities of potassium.
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