The Best Fish to Buy Instead of Tuna, Halibut, Mahi Mahi and More

It doesn't matter what type of fish your recipe calls for—we know the best fish to substitute!

Not every fish is readily available at the grocery store. It can be tough to find cod in some markets—and even more challenging to find halibut in others! Even if it is there, it might be outrageously expensive or perhaps it’s not as fresh as another option. (Here’s what to look for to find fresh fish, by the way.)

Instead of sticking to your recipe, choose a substitute instead.

How do you find the best fish to work for your recipe? You ask the fishmonger! If you tell them how you plan to cook it, they’ll steer you to the best fish available. If you’re too afraid to ask, use color as your guide: in general, the whiter the flesh, the milder the flavor.

Anchovy

A small, saltwater fish in the herring family.

Flavor/Texture: These oily fish have a reputation for tasting “fishy,” but high-quality anchovies have a meaty texture and a super umami-forward flavor.

Substitutes: In sauce recipes that call for anchovy paste, you can swap in fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce. For any other recipe, look for smelt, sardines, herring or mackerel.

Catfish

A freshwater fish popular in Southern fried dishes.

Flavor/Texture: This mild fish has a slightly sweet flavor and a medium-firm texture that eats juicy when cooked properly. Some people soak catfish in milk or salt water to remove its somewhat muddy flavor.

Substitutes: Most mild whitefish will work well as a substitution, such as flounder or tilapia.

Chilean Sea Bass

Not actually a type of sea bass at all. Also called “Patagonian toothfish,” this coldwater fish is a type of cod.

Flavor/Texture: Like other types of cod, this fish is snow-white in color and super firm in texture. It has a rich flavor that seems to melt in your mouth as you eat it.

Substitutes: The best alternative for this one is black cod (also called sablefish), which is often touted as a more sustainable option.

Cod

A coldwater whitefish known for its use in fish and chips.

Flavor/Texture: Although cod has a delicate, flaky texture, it’s also resiliently meaty and can hold up to just about any cooking method.

Substitutes: If you can’t find Pacific cod, Atlantic cod or true cod, you might consider swapping in lingcod, sole, haddock or pollock.

Grouper

A lean fish in the sea bass family, typically found around coral reefs.

Flavor/Texture: This white-fleshed fish is mild and sweet, with a firm texture and a large flake.

Substitutes: Black sea bass is the most likely substitute, although you could also use snapper, mahi mahi or shark.

Halibut

A flatfish found in both northern Atlantic and Pacific waters.

Flavor/Texture: Halibut is very lean, and it can dry out if overcooked. It’s prized for its meaty, sweet flavor and boasts an impressively firm texture with big flakes. It can be poached, baked or blackened.

Substitutes: Other flatfish (like flounder or sole) make great substitutes, although cod, fluke or turbot work as well.

Mahi Mahi

Also called dorado or dolphin fish, this saltwater fish can be found in tropical and subtropical waters.

Flavor/Texture: This fish has a strong, distinct flavor with dense flesh similar to swordfish. It tends to flake when it’s overcooked but it holds up well on the grill.

Substitutes: Any fish with meaty texture works well here, like swordfish, marlin or shark.

Rockfish

Can be used to describe many kinds of saltwater fish, including striped bass, rock cod, redfish and ocean perch.

Flavor/Texture: A mild fish with a slightly nutty flavor, a medium texture and a fine flake.

Substitutes: Swap in one of the many fish synonymous with rockfish, or look for red snapper, porgy or cod.

Salmon

A fatty, oily fish. You can find all different kinds of salmon, including Chinook, Sockeye and Coho.

Flavor/Texture: This oily fish is as far from “fishy” tasting as it gets! It has a meaty texture and a rich, fatty flavor. Its versatility makes it one of the most popular fish for grilling and baking!

Substitutes: Ocean trout are the best substitute, but you could also cook up Arctic char, bluefish or striped bass.

Sea Bass

This family of fishes includes grouper, but black sea bass is the most popular.

Flavor/Texture: This lean, white-fleshed fish has a delicate flavor and flakes easily.

Substitutes: Branzino and flounder are the best substitutes, although you could also use tilapia.

Shark

These marine fish only live in saltwater. Instead of bones, their skeletal structures are made of cartilage.

Flavor/Texture: Shark has a super-firm texture and a meaty bite. Most people marinate shark meat to remove the naturally occurring ammonia flavor.

Substitutes: Any meaty fish will work here, like swordfish or mahi mahi.

Snapper

There are many types of snapper, but red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico is the most well-known.

Flavor/Texture: Although it’s a lean fish, properly cooked snapper is moist with a mild, sweet flavor and a delicate but firm texture.

Substitutes: Any flaky whitefish will do here, like grouper, rockfish or monkfish.

Swordfish

A predatory marine fish prized for its meaty texture. It is well-known for having a high mercury content, though.

Flavor/Texture: The meaty texture is more prevalent than the taste with this fish, although it has a sweet, mild flavor. Swordfish is an ideal fish to serve to steak lovers.

Substitutes: Look for meaty alternatives, like shark, halibut or very fresh tuna.

Tilapia

This freshwater, farmed fish is one of the least expensive, most readily available fish in the United States.

Flavor/Texture: A flaky whitefish with a mild flavor and a medium-firm texture.

Substitutes: Any mild whitefish will work, including catfish, roughy and sole.

Trout

A freshwater fish that is mostly available as a farmed fish. Ocean-going trout varieties (like steelhead) are related to salmon.

Flavor/Texture: A subtly sweet fish with a delicate texture and a slightly gamey flavor.

Substitutes: Any whitefish with a delicate flavor will work here, like tilefish, flounder or grouper.

Tuna

A member of the mackerel family, you’ll find a few varieties of tuna, from sushi-grade yellowfin (ahi) to albacore, which is popularly used to make canned tuna.

Flavor/Texture: This fatty fish has firm flesh, giving it a meaty texture. When cooked, this fish flakes easily but sushi-grade tuna can be consumed raw and has a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth quality.

Substitutes: Look for a meaty fish, like swordfish or shark. Thick-cut salmon steaks would also work well.

Walleye

This freshwater fish is also called walleye pike, although it’s part of the perch family.

Flavor/Texture: Walleye are prized for their delicate, flaky texture. While some characterize these fish as “fishy” or “murky,” most find walleye to be mild.

Substitutes: Choose a whitefish with a flaky texture, like haddock, rockfish or snapper.

Find the Right Fish—and You Could Have Dinner Ready in 30 Minutes
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.