Here’s how to decode a vague recipe.
Seared Cod with Bacon, Braised Fennel, and Kale image
Seared Cod with Bacon, Braised Fennel, and Kale image
| Credit: Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

A recipe that calls for “whitefish” without including any specifications could leave you scratching your head. What is a whitefish? Are there different kinds? And if there are, how in the heck do you choose which to buy?

What Is a Whitefish and What Are the Most Common Types?

Whitefish isn’t a specific type of fish—it’s actually an entire category of fish. It’s a pretty broad category, but all whitefish have a few things in common: They live near the seafloor, they contain oils in their liver (as opposed to oily fish who carry it in their gut), and they have white flesh.

Because of where they carry their oil, whitefish can be gutted as soon as they are caught.

Common types of whitefish are cod, haddock, tilapia, snapper, grouper, and catfish.

How Do You Choose a Whitefish?

WATCH: How to Make Copycat Filet O Fish

There are a few ways to decide which whitefish will work best for you and your recipe:

  • Price. Not all whitefish cost the same. For instance, tilapia and catfish are generally going to be cheaper than snapper and grouper. If you’re on a budget and the recipe doesn’t specify what kind of whitefish to use, don’t hesitate to reach for the cheaper option (as long as it looks fresh and is from a reputable source).
  • Other ingredients. Use common sense when choosing whitefish—if the fish is the main attraction, you might want to spend a bit more money on a higher quality option. However, if something else is taking center stage (like in a salad, soup, or tacos), you have more leeway.
  • Ask the fishmonger. When in doubt, ask the expert. The person or people behind the counter will help you choose the best fish for your recipe by comparing thickness, taste, and freshness.

Whitefish Recipes

Spiced Tilapia with Coconut Rice
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Caitlin Bensel

No matter what you choose, you need to make sure you have a good recipe. Speaking of, we happen to quite a few delicious whitefish recipes:

Find even more delicious fish recipes here.