[Forsten's Parrotfish, Scarus forsteni]
This fish is native to the Western Pacific, around the Philippines, Indonesia, northern Australia, and as far east as the Pitcairn Island group. It can grow to almost 22 inches (TL) and 5-1/2 pounds, but the photo specimen was 12-3/4 inches long and weighed 1.1 pounds. It is fished commercially in the region, and is IUCN Red Listed LC (Least Concern).
As you can see below, Parrotfish is a little more hassle than some fish to prepare, so why deal with Parrotfish? Well, because they have a unique combination of taste and texture. Parrotfish flesh is pure white in color, with no dark strip down the center under the skin. It's flavor is mild, but sufficiently interesting to be enjoyed by the fish connoisseur - yet not so assertive as to offend those who want their fish "white and lite".
The flesh stays firm enough for any mode of cooking, but on the plate, can be flaked apart into unusually thick firm textured flakes. The heads, bones, fins and skins make a very good, fairly mild stock, suitable for soups and stews. This fish cannot be cooked skin-on.
Buying: Parrotfish show up fairly regularly in the Philippine fish markets here in Southern California, and occasionally in other Asian markets. It's not a fish you go out to buy, it's a fish you buy when you see it. Cost is usually around 2016 US $3.99 / pound.
Scales: This fish is completely covered with very large stiff scales that have a lot of tight overlap, making them difficult to scrape off, and they fly around a lot as you do. For a larger fish (more than 2 pounds) you will have to pull the scales off in clumps with long nose pliers.
Cleaning: This is not the easiest fish to clean as there are some tough membranes that aren't easy to pull out, and the gills are hard to get to. Use your long nosed pliers.
Fillet: The fish is fairly easy to fillet with an easy to follow bone structure. When you get to the rib cage, it is easiest to cut the ribs from the backbone with kitchen shears and pull them from the fillet. Pulled lengthwise they slip out easily taking no flesh with them. There are some substantial sharp centerline pinbones for the full length of the rib cage. Pull these out straight forward.
Skin: The skin shrinks very severely when heated, it doesn't let go, and it doesn't soften until the damage is done. Trying to hold a fillet flat when it's turned skin side down is futile, the skin just pulls the fillet into a lump. Fortunately, the skin is tough, enough to be easily removed cleanly using the long knife and cutting board Method. The skin does not have a strong or "off" flavor, but I do not use it in the stock pot because it will color the stock oddly.
Yield: A 1 pound 3oz (1.2 pound) fish yielded 8 ounces of skinless fillet (42%).
Stock: The head, fins and bones make a moderately flavored stock with almost no oil at all. For details see our Fish Stock page.