Pompano (Golden / Florida)
[Trachinotus carolinus (Florida Pompano, Common Pompano); Trachinotus blochii (Golden Pompano, Asian Pompano)]
Pompano is a highly preferred eating fish. The specimen in the photo was
marketed as "Golden Pompano" which is supposed to be T. blochii but
it looks more like Florida Pompano T. carolinus. T. blochii has
a much longer dorsal fin. Florida wild caught pompanos are very expensive
(actually this fish is found from Massachusetts to Brazil). Both species are
farmed commercially and I wouldn't be at all surprised at hybrids of the two.
T. carolinus can grow to 25 inches and T. blochii to 43 inches
but the photo specimen was 12-1/4 inches and weighed 1 pound 9 ounces,
at the high end of market size here in Los Angeles.
Photo © cg1.
This pompano is a medium flavor fish with flesh that holds together very well for all modes of cooking, and it's shape fits pans and steamers better than most fish do. Frying, steaming, baking and poaching whole or as fillets all work well. The flesh is white except for a darker layer right under the skin, but that dark flesh does not have a strong flavor.
Buying: This fish is found in all the Asian fish markets here in Southern California. It is heavily farmed and almost always available. Because it is very often cooked whole, that's the way it is normally sold. Farmed Pompano is quite economical for a premium fish - I've purchased whole fish as low as $2.99/pound.
Scales: Golden / Florida pompano has only an incomplete covering of tiny scales that scrape off as a slush without making a mess.
Cleaning: The main problem for cleaning is the short length of the body cavity, but it's sufficient to get your fingers into. The gills pull rather hard, so a strong pair of long nose pliers is a great help. There are also large stone-like lumps in the throat for crushing shells, and the pliers help here too. They are also good for reaching soft stuff that's hard to get at with your fingers.
Filleting: This is about as easy a fish to fillet as you're going to find. The bone structure is complete and easy to follow with the knife and you can end up with a "see through" skeleton with almost no flesh on it. When you get to the rib cage, just cut the ribs from the backbone with kitchen shears. The ribs are thick and hard, and pull quite cleanly with long nose pliers. There is also a row of substantial centerline spines for the length of the body cavity - pull them straight forward.
Skin: The skin is fairly tough and feels a little leathery, but has no strong or off flavor. Amazingly, it has no shrink when fried, or when cooked by other means. In fact, you can poach a skin-on fillet and, when it hits the hot court bouillon, it actually bends slightly away from the skin side. This makes Pompano ideal for steaming, baking or poaching whole. Once cooked, the skin is very tender.
If you wish a skinless fillet, the standard long knife and cutting board Method works fine, but takes a bit of muscle as the skin adheres strongly to the flesh. The only problem is the width of the fish. Cutting the fillets lengthwise down the centerline makes skinning easier. The skin is easily peeled from a cooked fish if you desire to do that. I see little point in removing the skin from this fish.
Yield: A 1 pound 9 ounce fish yielded 14-1/4 oz of fillet skin-on (57%), 12-3/8 ounces skinless (50%) - a very good yield.
Stock: The head, bones and fins make a very nice fairly light soup stock. There is a fair amount of oil, but this is easily removed using your gravy separator. The oil does not have a strong flavor.