The Yellowtail Amberjack has a worldwide distribution along the coasts extending from north subarctic to south subarctic but preferring warmer waters. It can grow to nearly 8-1/4 feet long and 213 pounds but is more commonly a little less than 3 feet long. The photo specimen was 27 inches and 7.44 pounds. It is a prized sports fish and there is a small commercial catch, mainly to supply sushi bars with "hamachi" and yellow tail collar.
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While this fish is currently fairly plentiful, it is becoming somewhat depleted along the California coast due to fishing ships from Japan. Farming is being considered, but unlike the Japanese Amberjack, juveniles can't be easily captured in the wild. Establishing a captive breeding operation will be required.
This is a medium and dark meat fish with a distinct but pleasant flavor. It's not a fish for those who want "fish lite", but is highly thought of by people who actually like fish. The dark strip down the center runs quite deep, but it does not differ greatly in flavor or oiliness from the lighter flesh. The flesh becomes quite firm when baked, steamed or poached, but is easily broken into large flakes. It holds together well enough for fish stews.
Buying: I find these in Philippine and Asian markets here in Los Angeles, California. In season they can be quite economical. These markets sometimes have Japanese Amberjacks (Hamachi), which are pretty much interchangeable with the Yellowtail.
Scales: These are tiny and easy to scrape off with only moderate flying around.
Cleaning: The main problem here is size. There are a lot of membranes and such that are not easy to pull out without using your long nose pliers. Be sure to scrape through the long swim bladder and scrape off the blood works above it. Use kitchen shears to cut both ends of the gills to make them easier to pull out.
Filleting: This fish is very easy to fillet. When you get down to the rib cage don't bother trying to follow the bones with your knife. Just use kitchen shears to cut the ribs from the backbone and pull them from the fillets with your long nose pliers. They pull easily and take almost no flesh. The skirt is thick and meaty on these fish.
There are substantial centerline spines for the front half of the fish. They are easy to find - just pull them out straight forward.
Of course, right behind the head is the famous "yellowtail collar" which is oiled and broiled and sold at a high price in sushi bars. This can be a special treat for the cook.
Yield: The 7.44 pound fish in the photo yielded 4.3 pounds of skin-on fillet (58%). 4.0 pounds skin-off (54%).
Skin: The skin has very little shrink when fried or poached. The flavor is a little oilier than that of the flesh, but not unpleasantly so. Cubes cut for stew can be left skin-on if you wish. Skinning fillets is quite easy, but for so large a fish it is best to split them along the centerline, even if you knife is long enough for the full width.
Stock: The head, bones and fins make a stock that is quite clear, with medium flavor, excellent for soups and stews. There is a fair amount of oil which needs to be removed (use your gravy separator). For details see our Fish Stock page.